The journey of a thousand miles starts with one step and the first step is very clear;
- Overhaul all urban planning and reform all land laws: This is by far, the worst cancer causing the stalemate. Without a solid masterplan with corresponding enforcement, growth is haphazard leading to urban sprawl. Urban sprawl has many negative consequences for residents and the environment, such as higher water and air pollution, increased traffic fatalities and jams, loss of agricultural capacity, increased car dependency, higher taxes, increased runoff into rivers and lakes, harmful effects on human health, including higher rates of obesity, high blood pressure, hypertension and chronic diseases, increased flooding, increased ‘anti-social’ behaviour’ in relationships, decrease in social capital and loss of natural habitats, wildlife and open space. How do you think that popular joint on outer ring road that used ‘rescue’ people from (traffic) ‘jams’ got its name and reputation?
Lack of land policies favourable for the masses results in hoarding of land that cause completely unrealistic land prices. If everyone was to be given the amount of money they are asking for their land in Kenya, we don’t even have that amount of money in the economy. Buildings are supposed to add value to land, but when your land costs more than the building you are putting, iko shida.
- Deliberate emphasis of mass public and non-motorized transport over private cars. There is generally lacklustre goodwill provision of mass transit and non-motorized (pedestrians and cyclists) infrastructure lines. Most urban Kenyans walk to work, and a few privileged ones take public transport and drive private cars. Budgets for infrastructure projects in Kenya think about pedestrians last. Thika Superhighway is a good example where pedestrian bridges were completed more than a decade since its completion. Current new road construction projects are catering for private cars first as pedestrian bridges, cyclist lanes etc. are likely to be an afterthought. With good urban planning, people will be able to take high density public transport, walk or cycle to work, leaving less cars on the road and causing less pollution. The current jitneys/matatus that we call ‘public transport’ are just high-capacity private taxis with very lacklustre regulation. Public transport must be ‘timely’ like say one bus every one minute as was the days of Kenya Bus Service, PSVs must have fixed prices and must be on a dedicated infrastructure line(s) or lanes where they can ‘overlap’ legally and take a fraction of the time private transport would. With such incentive’s motorists will leave their cars at home.
- Subsidized and creative financing: Ordinary citizens are unlikely to have enough savings to buy a house at once. Cost of money in Kenya is expensive. A number of factors have been established that determine and influence the interest rate band in Kenya. These factors range from Micro economic factors, institutional factors, market fundamentals, financial instability, capital market developments, political risk, legal/law reforms, monetary policy to name but a few. Seeing the happenings of the parliamentary bill to liberalize interest rates, it is clear that these are factors that can be manipulated to better or worse these rates. Financing costs are incurred both by the developer and the home buyer. Policies can be created to bridge this gap of banks eating the lion’s share of the housing cost.
- Creating policy with Housing-‘phelic’ taxation: It is shocking at the amount of taxes that actually are part of the cost of construction. Tax incentives, rebates, waivers go a long way to reduce the cost of housing. Other creative strategies would be to Introduce vacant home taxes that would ensure that no housing stock is left idle. The tax system will seek to double up the tax on property left unused for a period of time based on the value of the property. This will also necessitate that the government has updated records of the housing status and can use the data for creating sound policy.
- Drive down the cost of CLEAN and RENEWABLE energy: At least 90% of the cost of construction is a direct energy cost. If you study the cost of almost every building material, you will see a direct correlation between its final cost and the cost energy. That is why aluminium costs more than steel, EPS costs more than stones/masonry etc. Ever wondered why so many houses in the US are made of timber? How is timber made? Through an energy conversion called photosynthesis. How is it harnessed from the energy from the sun? Through free solar panels called LEAVES. Leaves are the world’s oldest solar panels since they have been harnessing energy for more than 350million years, more than 100million years before the first dinosaur set foot on our green and blue ball. Timber, can be used as a structural element, finishing element, window, door even for bathrooms on a suspended floor. (avoid for fireplaces). If we as a country were serious with Agro forestry, housing costs would indeed come down. From our vast experience in construction in East and central Africa, this is so far, the only workable long term ‘ALTERNATIVE’ building technology for cutting costs. The other alternatives are fine, but don’t attach the term ‘cost cutting’ to them. Another strategy is to go all out on wind energy, the cheapest form of energy (to install, maintain and produce) we can harness in Kenya. High-capacity dams are not as good but okay for hydroelectric power as they rely on the water cycle, which is just energy from the sun moving water from one place to another. Unfortunately, Kenyans are very sceptical of dam projects based on past experiences.
- Work harder and smarter to have higher wages/profits: There is a very misleading urban legend that says construction cost is ‘very high’ in Kenya. This is, interestingly enough, not true. Whereas we believe that a lot more can still be done to lower construction cost, what plagues us is low wages. A comparative analysis of our neighbouring countries (And others in Africa) major construction materials from cement, sand, masonry stones, steel, glass, low end finishes, low end roofing materials, basically non-luxury housing materials paints an interesting picture. Results from our research are shocking. Apart from timber, almost any other material is cheaper. Whereas one may argue that cement is cheaper in Ethiopia by almost 15%, it may be good to assess the purchasing power of citizens of that country where high paid CEOs can only afford to drive what in Kenya, we can a ‘kadudu’. Be dedicated in your grind or workplace and you shall succeed.