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Rising attraction of lower-end estates in Kenya

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Some of the houses handed over to the civil servants by the Housing ministry in 2010. The apartments replaced single dwelling units that once stood on the plots

The Madaraka Estate skyline is drastically changing both for the good, and the worse.

The old flats, which were built in the 70s and whose paint is peeling off and once manicured lawns have become bushes, are slowly being replaced by swanky apartments with fine finishes.

Welcome to a phase of construction development where the growing middle class and the rich take advantage of their huge earnings to put up comfortable and lavish homes in places where there were lower income homes.

As a result, low income earners are slowly being pushed away from their homes as the growing middle class and the wealthy take up space in emerging urban residences.

The Madaraka area bordering Upper Hill to the north just at the valley, is a clear example of the effect of gentrification, which started in Upper Hill.

The dictionary defines gentrification as a phenomenon referring to restoration and upgrading of deteriorated urban property by middle-class or affluent people, often resulting in displacement of the lower-income people who were previously living there.

Gentrification comes from the word gentry, denoting people with the capacity to afford nice properties.

As much as the gentry have money and can afford to purchase any high-end developments in up-market estates, land in prime locations like Kileleshwa, Karen and Runda has become scarce or completely unaffordable.

As a result, the rich are invading areas close to where they would have loved to live as a forgone alternative.

For instance, most of those settling in Madaraka Estate are the emerging upper-middle class who are unable to secure land in Upper Hill. It is here, that beautiful high-rise apartments have been spotted in the last three years and more continue to come up.

The immediate effect of gentrification is a happy land owner who gladly rejoices in the upsurge of property cost.

However, the excitement is short-lived since most of them are usually unable to match the redevelopments in the area thus disposing of their property to those with money to redevelop or improve the houses.

With the price of land up, a three-bedroomed maisonette going for Sh30,000 becomes unaffordable as the rent is also adjusted upwards by Sh10,000 to Sh20, 000.

Because of this rise in rent, the occupant is forced to move to areas where they, too, force the previous occupants to move to lower area, and the cycle continue.

It is not uncommon to find the same tenant shifting houses two or three times and in the long run settling in the outskirts of the city in a house that would cost him Sh30,000 in an estate like Buru Buru or in Kiambu. Ben Woodhams, managing director of Knight Frank, an international real estate company, attributes gentrification to the natural consequence of capitalism.

“I don’t want to sound rude but it (gentrification) is a good thing. We cannot continue to hold the population which is fast growing because the poor need affordable housing,” he says. He contends that, even the rich staying in Karen are been pushed out too.

“With international firms setting their regional base in Kenya, Karen has become unaffordable,” adds Woodhams. Kenyans are also now earning much more than five years ago. However, property prices outstrip these huge salaries.

According to the recently released survey by Hass Consult, a real estate consulting firm, residential and commercial property on the outskirts of Nairobi recorded the highest increase in prices in the last quarter of 2012.

The property index further indicates the steepest sales price increases came in outer zones such as Karen, Ongata Rongai and Komarock where prices rose by around 20 per cent.

HassConsult attributes this behaviour to buyers’ bet on both capital gains and high rental yields in the outer estates unlike Nairobi suburbs such as Westlands, Riverside, Kilimani and Lang’ata whose growth appears to have peaked.

But although the price in the areas outside Nairobi showed growth, the increase was marginal compared to high-end suburbs. For instance, properties in Ngong recorded eight per cent growth compared to 15 per cent rise in developments in Lower Kabete.

Apart from increase in land prices, gentrification also brings status. Upper Hill stands out as the testimony of an area that has be crowned with prestige courtesy of gentrification.

“Eight years ago, Upper Hill was a predominantly upper-middle class residential area, with many, old colonial houses occupying one or two acres of land,” reads a property analysis document on the Hass Consult website. In its place today, are skyscrapers owned by multinationals and local blue chip corporations.

An acre of land in Upper Hill currently goes for Sh100 million and more.

No matter how much, we complain however, it’s best to acknowledge that this shift is here to stay because there are willing buyers of houses or land in these sometimes, run-down, old estates.

Woodhams advices that instead of complaining about being forced out of our comfort estates, Kenyans should engage the local authority to improve public utility which is increasingly coming under pressure due to congestion.

Kilimani, Hurlingham and Kileleshwa are among the suburbs reeling from the negative effects of gentrification – the roads are too narrow, not to mention poor sewer system, unreliable water and electricity.-Business Daily

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