Kenya’s new plan to tame high rents, solve housing crisis

Technological innovations will shape the future of the construction industry.
Technological innovations will shape the future of the construction industry. PHOTO/FILE

Housing in Nairobi and other major towns in Kenya has become severely unaffordable for most citizens, largely due to the widening housing demand-supply gap in the country.

According to a recent World Bank report, Kenya needs to build two million affordable city homes to ease the current housing shortage and curtail the expansion of its sprawling informal settlements that already host 60 per cent of its urban households.

The housing chronic shortage, the lender said, will become worse over the next decades without a “serious focus on housing and the finance of housing for the average Kenyan.”

READ: Kenya’s largest bank unveils big plans for low cost housing

One of the major factors undermining the development of low cost housing in urban areas is an archaic building code that is yet to adapt to the changing needs of the country, such as allowing the use of commonly available building materials such as coral stones.

This is despite the fact that there have been several attempts by the government to institute a revised building code of regulations that allows the adoption of new building technologies that can significantly lower construction costs.

However, the government now looks determined to completely discard the 1969 Kenya Building Code that has long outlived its usefulness.

According to the Kenya Bureau of Standards (Kebs) managing director Charles Ongwae, Kenya is now set to discard the British Standards and Codes of Practice used for structural engineering practice in the country in favour of new European construction guidelines.

The new set of rules, commonly known as Eurocodes, will from January 2021 provide a common reference point for all builders in the country – replacing the British Standards (BS) that have guided contractors for five decades.

“This means professionals in the local construction industry will have to undergo retraining, which must be done within five years,” Mr Ongwae said.

“Institutions offering engineering related courses will have to replace their BS teaching systems with Eurocodes.”

READ: Builders to go back to class as Kenya adopts Eurocodes

Kebs says the Eurocode will eliminate the disparities that continue to hinder the transfer of engineering technologies in global markets.

Speaking last September during a stakeholders forum deliberating the shift to Eurocodes, then Public Works PS Paul Maringa said the new construction standards would allow for the use of locally available construction materials as long as they pass the safety tests.

“The new code bears a lot of diversity and therefore a Kenyan at the Coast seeking approval to build permanent structures using, say mangrove timber or coral stones, which are abundant in the region, will be able to do so under the law as long as standardisation is done and the materials pass the safety test,” he said.

Local developers have been pushing the government to allow them to use locally available materials and alternative building technologies as a means to lower the cost of housing in the country.

Currently, developers cannot be granted regulatory approval to build permanent structures in urban areas unless they are using specific materials such as brick and mortar.

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