Why the Kenyan Government needs to Embrace the Concept of Social Housing for Wider Impact


Any business school student is familiar with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. It is a theory comprising a tiered model of human needs. From the bottom of the hierarchy moving upwards, the intrinsic needs start from physiology, safety, love & belonging, esteem, and are elevated to self-actualization reflecting the insatiable disposition of people in general.

Physiological needs are basic requirements for human survival. These needs include basic items such as air, food, water, shelter, and clothing.

Grounded in the Maslow’s theory, housing or shelter is a basic and physiological need. Despite being a basic need, affordable housing continues to be inaccessible to many people across the globe, due to the rising population growth and increased urbanisation in many African countries, including Kenya.

Positive move

The move by the Kenyan government to make ‘decent and affordable’ housing one of its key development pillars under the Big 4 Agenda, besides manufacturing, universal healthcare, and food security and her plan to build 500,000 affordable homes in the next five years is a step in the right direction. Due to the housing crisis in Kenya and proliferation of slums, more will be needed to bridge the housing deficit to improve the accessibility of homeownership.

Firstly, the overall yearly housing shortage in Kenya is conservatively estimated at 150,000 – 200,000 units in urban areas and more than 300,000 units in rural areas. Currently, the public and private sectors are providing only 30,000-50,000 units per year which is well below the actual demand.  In a recent report, World Bank indicated that Kenya needed to build two million affordable city homes to meet its housing deficit and stem the growth of its sprawling slums. This means that even with the Big 4 agenda firmly in place, we need to explore alternative but complementary housing delivery options to cater for the portion of the deficit not covered by the Big 4 agenda. This is an economic and moral imperative given the fact that the Big 4 agenda cannot be the panacea of solving the housing shortage for the mwananchi

Social Housing

Despite the merits of the Big 4 agenda which has gained great momentum, it is inevitable that many Kenyans may not be covered by the government housing plan. This is because of lack of affordability despite the improvement in the supply side. This creates the need to find innovative ways to address the demand side to improve the accessibility to housing finance.

Affordable housing, particularly in the African context, targets middle- and upper-income housing segments. However, the acute housing supply shortage is often concentrated in the low-income housing segment.  In absolute terms, affordability is relative to all housing, while social housing focuses on the less privileged because it is specific to improving access to housing for those least able to fund themselves.

In Kenya, for instance, six out of 10 urban households are living in slums. While real demand is very high among this group, the effective demand (the population that demands housing and is eligible in terms of affordability and other requirements to purchase housing) is constrained to the middle- and upper-income segments. This gives credence to the advocacy for government housing projects to embrace both affordable housing and social housing concepts. This is true for Kenya as it is for the rest of Africa.

At Shelter Afrique, we have identified social housing as a key priority that can complement the Big 4 agenda. We have made deliberate efforts to expand the supply of low-cost housing and increase access of housing to low-income populations in ways that complement various initiatives by both state and non-state actors in the real estate sector across Africa.

We have a history of working in the Social Housing industry, having established key partnerships with the UN-Habitat and microfinance companies in Kenya targeting slum-upgrading and microloans for home improvements and ownerships. Beyond that, we have made Social Housing the thematic umbrella for all our discourse and research activities this year. It will be the topic of discussion at our annual symposium due to be held in Morocco on 18th June 2019.

We are also supporting the Government of Kenya through the development of a programme to deepen capacity for delivery of the housing pillar of the Big Four Agenda. In April 2019, we will be hosting 100 selected developers in Kenya who have shown interest and capacity for the large-scale delivery for a masterclass on Large-Scale Private-Public-Partnership delivery, specifically for the Big Four Agenda. This will be presented by the Shelter Afrique CENTRE OF EXCELLENCE.

Shelter Afrique has a strong conviction that Kenya has a high social housing market potential. We will continue to leverage ongoing initiatives and coordinate closely with public and private sector players to incorporate any social housing projects as part of a broader national effort to support the strong momentum generated by the Big 4 agenda pillar covering “Decent and affordable housing”.

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