ODHIAMBO: Balancing economic, social rights amid transparency concerns on affordable housing

There should also be effective information-sharing methods to convey details regarding housing initiatives.

In Summary
  • This covers project costs, funding sources, and private entity identities.
  • Such transparency allows citizens to understand how public resources are used.
Affordable Housing Project in Mukuru, Nairobi,
Affordable Housing Project in Mukuru, Nairobi,

Affordable housing stands as a cornerstone in the pursuit of securing both economic and social rights for citizens.

Providing reasonably priced dwellings plays a fundamental role in ensuring that all members of society have access to a basic human need – shelter.

The Affordable Housing Programme was established in 2017 as a vital component of the ‘Big Four Agenda’.

The plan aimed to provide 500,000 affordable homes for Kenyans in all 47 counties by 2022.

However, the aim was far from met at the end of the 5-year tenure, with an estimated 13,529 units delivered and limited delivery in the social housing category, accounting for less than 3.0 per cent of the projected target.

When President William Ruto took office, he upheld the project, making it one of six foundational pillars of his government’s strategy, intending to deliver 200,000 housing units each year, or one million dwellings, in five years.

Since his inauguration, the President has launched various affordable housing projects, including Shauri Moyo A, Kings Boma Estate, Gichugu, and, most recently, the Bahati and Milimani affordable housing developments in Nairobi, Kiambu, Nakuru, and Kakamega counties, respectively.

On January 13, 2024, the government officially opened the Bondeni Affordable Housing Project in Nakuru to the public.

Members of the public were invited to purchase the units measuring 64 sqm, which will cost Sh3.15 million, while 3-bedroom units measuring 85 sqm will cost Sh4.25 million.

Concerns have emerged regarding the housing projects that claim to target low and middle-income earners but, in reality, seem to benefit private entities and individuals who are well-off financially.

What is the role of the project in upholding economic and social rights? Is there adequate transparency in the initiative?

The Nexus of Economic and Social Rights

At its essence, affordable housing is intended to close the gap between low and moderate-income individuals’ housing demands and the availability of adequate homes.

It protects economic rights by allowing persons to live in a stable environment without jeopardising their financial security. It also promotes wealth creation, thus reducing socioeconomic inequality.

A 2022 Cytonn report posits that home ownership in Kenya remains low compared to other African countries, at 22.0 per cent in urban areas as of 2022.

In contrast, South Africa and Ghana have urban homeownership rates of 69.7 per cent and 52.0 per cent, respectively.

This emphasizes the critical need to prioritise affordable housing investment to overcome the housing gap and promote homeownership, particularly among the country’s low-income population.

Government Housing Projects: A Closer Look

While the aim behind government housing initiatives is admirable, questions have been raised about their implementation. In certain cases, houses ostensibly designated for low-income individuals are priced beyond their means.

Furthermore, the procedure of excision of public land for housing meant to be developed and purchased by private individuals raises questions about the protection of already scarce public resources.

The lack of transparency in bidding and allocation processes has become a cause for alarm.

Several measures must be implemented to address these concerns and restore faith in government-led housing initiatives.

First, the government should establish a transparent and verifiable bidding process for housing projects through the Boma Yangu portal.

This should include specific instructions for eligibility requirements, evaluation parameters, and sanctions for any violations of unethical conduct, such as multiple bidding.

Further, stringent measures should be implemented to ensure the projects benefit only those who qualify in terms of income (people in need); otherwise, it will benefit the rich.

There should also be effective information-sharing methods to convey details regarding housing initiatives.

This covers project costs, funding sources, and private entity identities.

Such transparency allows citizens to understand how public resources are used.

Finally, conducting independent audits on government housing projects should be paramount to guarantee compliance with regulations and ethical standards.

These audits should be thorough, unbiased, and subject to public inspection. Public vigilance is also crucial to ensure strict legal monitoring to prevent exploitation of public land.

Harsh punishments should be meted upon those found guilty of corruption or other unethical acts relating to the housing projects.

It cannot be overstated how important affordable housing is for achieving economic and social rights, guaranteeing that citizens can exercise their fundamental human right to shelter without incurring financial hardship.

The path to affordable housing must remain faithful to its intended purpose – uplifting communities and fostering a society where every citizen can truly call a house a home.

The writer is a Lawyer and a Programme Officer at ICJ Kenya.

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