By Kamundia Muriithi
Owning a home is a dream that many Kenyans harbour, but few actualise it due to the associated high costs of constructing houses.
In recent times, housing cooperatives have sprung up in different parts of the country to empower ambitious Kenyans acquire decent, modern houses through homeownership plans.
Coupled with the government’s Big Four Agenda on Housing that sought to build 500,000 houses for the lower and middle-income population segments by next year is encouraging.
The initiatives should hopefully see many Kenyans have a roof over their heads in the near future.
But despite the different homeownership plans and housing projects that are ongoing across the country, many Kenyans cannot afford to acquire a house.
According to the 2015/16 Kenya Integrated Household Budget Survey (KIHBS), home ownership in urban areas stood at 26.1%. Simultaneously, 61% of Kenyans were living in informal settlements, according to World Bank.
This is even though housing ranks high as a fundamental human need, while the Constitution also recognizes “the right to accessible and adequate housing and to reasonable standards of sanitation” to all Kenyans.
The government has come up with several interventions to enable as many Kenyans to own homes.
Among them is the reduction of corporate tax from 30 per cent to 15 percent for property developers who put up at least 100 low-cost units under the affordable housing programme.
While this is a good initiative, some property developers have not utilised the offer as they cannot afford to build 100 housing units at a go.
That is the case with Focus Realtors Housing Cooperative in Embu County, which can only manage to construct five to 10 units in a year.
“As small societies we cannot afford to build those number units in a year to benefit from the incentive,” said the Cooperatives chairman Jamal Runyenje.
Speaking at the Annual General Meeting (AGM), he asked the government to reduce the minimum units to 10 for their members to benefit from the lower building cost and ultimately have more Kenyans own homes.
Kenyans have complained about the rising cost of building materials with inputs such as cement, binding wires, nails, iron sheets sky rocketing.
Muriithi Mugendi, who purchased a plot at a prime location in Laikipia County, has been planning to start developing it but was taken aback by the high cost of building materials.
“The government should take measures to lower the cost of building materials as well as enable more Kenyans to access financing to shore up the number of housing units in the country,” says Mugendi.
Runyenje called for reduced taxation on building materials to empower Kenyans to own property.
“Majority of Kenyans are low and middle-class earners who aspire to own property, but unfortunately the current high cost of building materials bars them from achieving their ambitions,” he said.
He called on the government to extend incentives to medium financial institutions that empower the common people to accumulate wealth.
He told members that their residential houses had recorded a loss due to the Covid-19 pandemic as research they conducted shows that many properties in the area are for rental while only few are for homeownership.
“We have lost tenants who could not afford the rent. We gave counteroffers at a lower rate pegged on prevailing market rates. But despite this, we have many unoccupied houses- especially those targeting high-end clients who downgraded to cheaper rentals,” said Runyenje.
He lamented that the high cost of building materials had given a leeway to the mushrooming of many slums in different regions of the country.
Homeowners in Kenya also encounter the risk of losing their hard-earned money to some housing cooperatives and real estate companies.
“These firms promise honey and milk while enlisting members, but without warning, a few years down the line, they sink with the member’s savings,” he said.
Focus Realtors Housing Supervisory Committee Chair Jim Njiru called on the government to cushion Kenyans from such unscrupulous societies.
Njiru pointed out that some of these shady organisations are not well regulated and charge exorbitant interest rates of about 30 percent per annum, as the buyers get to learn later after getting conned.
Njiru attributed the high cost of building materials to challenges of importing them because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
He said that can be addressed through government subsidies and regulation of the sellers who might be taking advantage to reap from Kenyans.