George Odiwuor @PeopleDailyKe
Homa Bay town is one of the areas in Nyanza region where thousands of people still reside in the informal settlements.
Unlike the neighbouring Rongo town in Migori county, which has better, formal housing structures, Homa Bay Town is characterised by hundreds of mabati structures being used as business premises and as homes to thousands of residents.
Up to three quarters of the town population stays in the informal settlements of Makongeni, Shauriyako, Misita and Sofia. The structures, mostly single or double-roomed, are rented at between Sh1,500 and Sh3,000 per month.
The low-quality houses cost less and are always occupied. The trend has made landowners in the area not to sell their land to developers keen to construct better houses that most of the residents consider to be expensive.
Some landlords and homeowners have added extra features to their rental rooms, including steel doors and tiled floors. However, most residents decry the conditions of their rented homes.
Experts in the construction industry in the town have attributed several factors to the increased build-up of houses made of iron sheet and the stalling of several formal housing projects.
According to Kedevis Company Limited’s director, Kephers Sigona, the town’s location makes construction expensive compared to other areas in the county. “The soil structure on the shores of Lake Victoria renders construction of foundations expensive,” he says.
As a result, people are forced to construct houses using iron sheets as opposed to brick and mortar. “The trend has been attributed to the high cost of construction of house foundation,” says Sigona.
Due to the weak soils, investors who buy land away from the lake shores save on construction costs compared to those who build near the shores.
“I have constructed many houses around hilly areas of Homa Bay town. I have realised that it is cheaper to build foundations away from the lake because the soil there is much stronger and holds houses firmly,” he says.
Poor planning has also led to a spike in informal settlements in the town. The town has recorded a sharp increase in population since the inception of devolved government.
Sigona says many landowners who wanted quick cash rushed to construct houses using iron sheets to accommodate the ever-increasing population. “Hundreds of people come here seeking jobs with the county government, but the town has few homes. So many property owners have built extensions in their compounds to cater for the influx,” he says.
According to Duncan Obuya, director of Rosida Enterprises, a construction firm, Homa Bay is also facing financial challenges including poor circulation of money and low disposable incomes. As a result, many people in the town prefer to stay in informal settlements. “Developers avoid building permanent houses because of lack of tenants. They would rather accommodate residents in iron sheet structures so as to get a constant monthly income,” he adds.
A major hindrance is the absence of factories in the town. “Manufacturers attract huge populations, which translates to increased demand for housing,” says Obuya. “The working class in the town are few. Most developers see no need to build houses to accommodate the few workers in this town,” he says.
Despite the challenges faced by tenants in the town on poor houses, several housing projects are ongoing. For instance, the county government has set aside 18 acres of land, which will be used in the construction of affordable houses for low-income earners.
The Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed between the county government and State Department of Housing and Urban Development will see at least 2,000 affordable housing units constructed in the county. The deal was signed at the county headquarters between Governor Cyprian Awiti and Housing and Urban Development PS, Charles Mwaura.
The PS said the project is scheduled to begin in the next six months. “Construction of the low-cost houses will begin in Homa Bay before being undertaken in other towns in the county. The project will enable low-income earners to live in decent homes,” he said.
“This is a serious engagement and I urge Homa Bay residents to take note,” he said. “We have realised that Homa Bay has readily available resources for constructing the house, hence we’ll not disappoint residents,” he said.
Governor Awiti said the houses would help alleviate acute housing shortages facing Homa Bay town. He assured Mwaura his administration will provide 18 acres of land for construction of the new homes. “We have identified land for constructing these houses to ensure people with low income can afford decent houses,” Awiti said.
According to the State Agency Director of Administration Mabea Mogaka, Homa Bay is among 45 counties, which are going to benefit from the fund in the next three years. The project is targeting to improve infrastructure in the county.