Unlikely investors bet billions on Kenya real estate

Cardinal Otunga Plaza in Nairobi.
Cardinal Otunga Plaza in Nairobi. PHOTO/GETTY IMAGES

Kenyan churches are increasingly turning to property development – building earthly mansions – as they seek to grab a share of the country’s real estate billions.

The unlikely investors, who have for many years relied on offerings, are aggressively pouring billions of shillings into Kenya’s property sector despite widespread fears that the market could be heading for a bust.

The Roman Catholic Church, Christ Is The Answer Ministries (CITAM), Presbyterian Church of East Africa (PCEA) and Jesus Is Alive Ministries (JIAM) are part of a growing list of local churches that have invested billions of shillings in real estate.

The Catholic Church, ranked among the largest landowners in Kenya, recently invested over Sh500 million in the construction of a 10-storey office block at the Holy Family Basilica in Nairobi.

Apart from the 7th and 8th floors of the Cardinal Otunga plaza, which will be used by the church, and the 9th floor, which will host a cafeteria and a meeting room, the rest of the building will be rented out.

The office block was built by Zhongxing Construction Company of China.

READ: Chinese ‘grab’ church construction projects in Kenya

In June 2013, Catholic Church-owned Pacis Insurance opened a Sh400 million commercial building on Waiyaki Way, opposite Lion Place, Nairobi. The 6-storey Pacis Centre, also known as Building of Faith, has a basement parking of 50 cars and an open rooftop – features that promptly attract tenants.

Catholic head Cardinal John Njue said: “It is [the move to join the real estate industry] to help the church to be self-reliant to handle its missions.”

On the other hand, through a sacco whose membership is drawn from church members, CITAM is said to be building a Sh7 billion “gated community of believers” on a 72.5 acres piece of land in Karen.

The housing project dubbed La Nyavu Gardens was launched in May last year and it consists of 130 four and five bedroom housing units. The project is currently entangled in a ferocious court scuffle involving the some members of CITAM, a sacco and the church management.

In 2007, the PCEA Foundation acquired the Milele Beach Hotel (then known as Giriama Beach) in the north coast and turned it into a popular venue for weddings. The church also owns several lodges and conventional centres around the country.

JIAM, which is led by Bishop Margaret Wanjiru, has made a foray into the real estate market with a proposal to build the Glory Twin Towers at its Haile Selassie headquarters.

The 12-storey building will comprise a five-star hotel, conference room, banking hall, supermarket, office space and basement parking among other features.

According to Johnston Maina, a Nairobi-based property analyst, churches have a lot of financial muscle that enables them to buy huge parcels of land at once and sell them at competitive prices to their members.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Read the latest issue of Construction Kenya digital news magazine. Flip through the pages or download a copy to read offline. Sign up for a FREE subscription to get the paper delivered to your inbox every month.