By Prudence Minayo
World bank statistics in 2018 showed that about 46.5% of the population in urban areas live in slums. In Nairobi, Kibera Slum has often been touted as the largest urban slum in Africa with a population estimated at Sh1 or Sh2 million. This figure was, however, disproved by the 2019 census which showed that it had a population of a little over 170k people. Most people living there are considered poor or belonging to the lower middle class most engaging in menial day to day jobs to earn a living. One of the most profitable businesses in the area would be rental houses. In 2004 alone, landlords collected Sh2.35 billion from their tenants according to a report by UN-Habitat.
The Price of Building A House
A study carried out by UN-Habitat suggested that the price of a single room which could be let out at Ksh1,300 would cost about Ksh13,000 to build. This proved that landlords could recoup their investment in less than a year. Reports further show that landlords are unwilling to re-invest these huge profits into building nice houses. Instead, they opt to establish poor structures.
Prof Sumila Guiyani of Columbia University led a team that conducted a study in about 1755 houses in the slums of Nairobi. They also concluded that the rental house business in the slums was profitable but not as profitable as the UN report suggested.
“The payback period for a housing investment for a single room, would take as twice as the UN report had indicated but is still a very lucrative business,” read the report by Guiyani which was conducted on behalf of the World Bank.
The study also indicated that most of the structures were illegal yet rent was quite high. The blame for this housing problem has mostly been placed on corruption. For some people, the rent in Kibera would be considered very little but for others (especially those who make less than Ksh300) this is a bit expensive.
The Government’s Role
Part of the Big Four Agenda is to provide affordable housing for low income earners. The government has made attempts to relocate people from the Kibera slums and provide them with better housing. However, this plan failed miserably. Most said this scheme failed because of corruption and the fact that while those houses were expensive.
A segment done by Edith Kimani two years ago on DW about the housing problem in Kibera slum, touched a lot on this issue. One resident of Kibera said that living there was hard since his house didn’t have a toilet, bathroom and water was a problem. He said he would love to live in a better house but wouldn’t even consider living in a house that costs Sh4,500 as that was almost half his salary. Another opined that some people living in Kibera are there because it is what they are used to and even if they earn a lot, they wouldn’t think of moving.
Who owns Kibera
A question most people have asked themselves is ”Who owns Kibera Slum?” is it the government or individuals?
In the 80s land in Kibera was allocated to civil servants and Provincial Administration officials through political patronage. Most of the houses in Kibera are owned by non-residents. A 2002 UN study sampled about 120 landlords and found out that 41% were government officials, 16% were politicians and 42% were absentee owners who visited Kibera occasionally.