The Housing Problem in Kenya

The Housing Problem in Kenya


By Eng. A. S. Kitololo

The recently constructed apartments in Soweto Kibera which are part of the Slum Upgrading Project
The recently constructed apartments in Soweto Kibera which are part of the Slum Upgrading Project

The figure quoted for annual housing needs of 150,000 units was arrived at in the seventies. I was then the Municipal Engineer of Mombasa Municipality at which time several studies on housing needs, costs and construction methods were being undertaken by the various government agencies. I laugh every time the same figure pops up because I know it is not applicable any more. Agitate for an urgent update by the relevant ministry.

The housing shortage has been blamed on the current building code which was released in 1969 in imperial units. Although some efforts to update it have been made since 1978, such as the Low Cost Housing Bylaws Study and other inter ministerial task forces which culminated in the little known ‘Code 95’, the Kenyan professionals in the built environment sector have done little to update the code even to convert it into metric units. Yet the document remains the main reference material for planning, spacial and structural building designs.

It is well known that the cost of housing has been prohibitive to the majority of Kenyans. During the 70s, various experiments were launched with the aim of enabling as many Kenyans as possible afford some form of shelter including site and services schemes, site and core houses, slum clearance projects and other cheap housing endeavours.

The cost of land and infrastructure services has made housing unaffordable to many. For several years, the government, as the custodian of large pieces of public land all over the country, has been urged to make available serviced land for mass housing projects to be undertaken by investors, government bodies and private developers.

Unfortunately, nothing positive has come out of this and instead, the government has become a competitor to would be benefactors in the provision of mass housing. Hence informal housing, slums and shacks have continued to mushroom in tandem with population increase, escalation of poverty and onset of strange diseases leading to early deaths.

What is commonly referred to as slum upgrading actually transforms into slum clearance. Whatever it may be called, the project should be dictated by the desire to cater for the needy and improve their quality of life. While the objectives remain noble, reality does not allow its success in that the end product will always be out of reach for every person it is intended for.

Real slum upgrading program will involve some form of physical planning to introduce infrastructure services in the existing slum areas. Road networks would be designed to provide access to essential service vehicles such as ambulances and fire engines. Water reticulation would include accessible water points, sewerage systems culminating in group septic tanks or other sewerage treatment and disposal works and garbage collection stations.

The planning should be such as to necessitate as little demolition of the existing structures as practicable. The slum dwellers must be involved early in the project in order to confirm acceptability of the project and affordability of the services.

In Mombasa, the physical planning service had been offered for free by the Municipal Council in the 1970s to owners of large tracts of land to entice them to accept slum upgrading. The response was overwhelming as owners readily accepted to adjust or remove altogether any structures coming in the road reserves and way leaves for services.

The author is a consulting Civil and Structural engineer in Kenya.


  1. I have never understood how a technology that only speeds up and reduces cost of wall construction ends up reducing cost of the entire house. If the floors, roofs and finishes remain the same, the savings are negligible.

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