Every time Kenyans debate the issue of civil servants’ housing, police officers top the list of workers who live in deplorable conditions.
During the day the law enforcers have the onerous task of ensuring that the country is secure, but when the sun sets, they retreat into dingy houses that not only lack basic amenities, but also offer little or no privacy.
A task force on the housing and welfare of police officers was in August last year shocked by the deplorable conditions in which some of them lived.
In Nyeri, for instance, police officers were found living in houses that had leaking roofs and curtain partitions separating families, while others had to make do with wooden houses whose walls were patched with old newspapers.
In Nairobi’s Lang’ata Police Station, new officers who had just been deployed to the station were spending their nights in the station’s classrooms.
Indeed, the housing needs of the country’s police officers have been neglected for a long time, and even those of other civil servants are nothing to write home about.
Most government estates are run down, sticking out like sore thumbs in prime neighbourhoods across the country.
It is against this backdrop that the government, through the Ministry of Lands, Housing and Urban Development, has come up with an ambitious project to put up 300,000 houses for civil servants by 2017.
The project is designed to incorporate the housing needs of not only civil servants — especially the police — but also address the social housing needs of those not employed by the State.
Because of the massive logistical support required for such an undertaking, the ministry will partner with private investors for the financing, construction, development and maintenance of the units.
What the government has in mind are modern, spacious highrise buildings fitted with lifts for easy access.
The structures, expected to rise between 12 and 15 floors, will replace the old, creaky civil servant housing units that sit on government estates.
Lands Cabinet Secretary Charity Ngilu says estates such as Shauri Moyo, Park Road and Starehe, which host government employees, will also get a facelift in the coming months.
“The Jubilee government promised Kenyans that it will provide them with affordable and decent housing. My ministry, which is mandated to deliver this promise, is committed and on course towards its fulfilment,” said Ngilu during a bidders’ conference towards the end of last year.
“The urgency to begin the construction of these houses cannot be gainsaid,” she added.
Mr Patrick Bucha, director of housing in the ministry, says the construction of some 10,000 units will begin this year. The ministry also intends to redevelop old government houses, put up social housing and open up prime spaces for commercial purposes not only for civil servants, but for the public as well.
The new units will replace the old structures that currently occupy some prime government estates in the city as, according to Mr Bucha, “it makes more sense, in the urban renewal sense, to develop the estates to accommodate more units”.
“We need to densify the prime estates next to the CBD by putting up highrise structures which will accommodate more tenants,” he says.
However, some critics say that the project, though good, could be an overly ambitious one that might disappoint its architects.
John Miswa, a Nairobi-based architect, says that unless the government intends to explore Western technologies, this might become a pipe dream.
“There is a lot that goes into the construction of a building, and considering that the ministry is talking about 15-floor buildings, the technology needs to be right,” says Miswa.
He also says that the ministry’s target of 300,000 units will not be met unless it explores the use of prefabs, “which have been proved to speed up construction because one can easily assemble the already manufactured materials”.
“It takes up to 21 days for a concrete slab to dry up,” he says. “Can you imagine how long it will take for the 15 storeys to be completed?”
But the ministry seems to have a ready plan in mind; through the Public-Private Partnership Act of 2013, Mr Bucha says that already the government has identified 13 foreign investors who will spearhead the project.
They will give the financial backing as well as carry out the construction and maintenance of the units, after which they will recoup their investments over an 18-year period, which Mr Bucha says is enough time for civil servants willing to buy the houses to pay for them “comfortably”.
The PPP Act, in force since 2013, aims to streamline and incentivise the participation of the private sector in the financing, construction, development, operation and maintenance of infrastructure or development projects of the Government through concessions or other contractual arrangements.
Through the new partnerships at the Lands ministry, investors will inject Sh25 billion into the sector for the construction of the initial 10,000 units, which will comprise bed-sitters on sale from as low as Sh600,000, and three-bedroom apartments costing Sh2.5 million.
It is the bed-sitter offer that has raised eyebrows, especially because civil servants are, on average, married and raising families.
But Mr Bucha says that, while that is true, there are some civil servants who have houses in other towns and would not wish to rent bigger units, and that there are also those who have just been employed and need simple, affordable accommodation as they settle down.
“Moreover,” says Mr Bucha, “considering market trends, bed-sitters are hot cakes!”
At a cost of between Sh800,000 and Sh1 million, a government employee will be able to purchase a one-bedroom house, which will set him or her back between Sh4,000 and Sh6,000 every month for 18 years.
According to Mr Bucha, the housing allowances for successful government officers will be channelled towards paying back for the houses through a tenant purchase scheme.
Currently, government employees receive a monthly house allowance of between Sh3,000 and Sh150,000, depending on the job group.