Providing affordable housing calls for a multisectoral view
Professional body cites prohibitive demands in ‘Big Four’ affordable housing component. PHOTO| COURTESY
The Institute of Quantity Surveyors of Kenya (IQSK) is the latest professional body in the building and construction fraternity to criticise the affordable housing project in the government’s “Big Four” agenda.
“When the “Big Four” agenda came up, we were really excited and positioned ourselves ready to take up roles in its realisation. However, we are very disappointed in the way the demands are packaged, the requirements – a Sh10 million bid bond, Sh1 billion professional indemnity cover and a turnover of Sh200 million per annum for the last three years,” said Chairman Andrew Mandere, during a press conference in Nairobi last week.
He said the demands are tailored in such a way that no local consortium can qualify to participate in the government’s biggest construction project since independence, locking them out of the opportunities presented in the housing component of the “Big Four” agenda
“The current packaging of the housing requests for proposals that have been floated seems to edge out local firms in favour of big, foreign firms,” said Mr Mandere.
Of the 1 million affordable houses the government plans to build, 200,000 are supposed to be social housing schemes to cater for those who cannot afford housing. But land is a major challenge to affordable housing in the country, Mr Mandere pointed out.
“There is, therefore, a need to review the land tenure policy in the country so that the government can build a land reserve of low-priced land that it can offer private developers for affordable housing,” he added.
With land for construction in Nairobi fast diminishing, it means that large tracks of land for the mega project will be available only in other counties, such as Kajiado.
“There is thus an element of providing efficient public transport. The government has to bring in the transport players, if it is to house low-income people. This calls for a multi-sectoral consultative conference to discuss these issues,” he added.
In addition the IQSK asked the government to think of how low-interest financing with long repayment periods will be realised, and ways in which initial deposits can be reduced.
“This is very critical as it will determine the take-off of the project in the market,” he added. The success of a housing development project is pegged on its ability to attract deposits from home buyers, and since real estate is a capital-intensive venture, developers who rely mainly on loans have to be assured that there will be enough cashflow to refinance the project at each stage.
The association further said that for the affordable housing project to be realised, the Building Code must be revoked. The old policy document which building materials to be used in public construction.
“Because it has not been revised for a long time, it does not recognise even materials like coral stone as appropriate building material,” he noted.
The is why quantity surveyors want it reviewed so that it captures new technologies and materials in the building and construction industry.
“It has to be put aside when thinking about affordable housing in Kenya so that we can explore building technologies and local materials that are most appropriate,” said Mr Mandere.
Besides, the government has to think of ways to empower local contractors and artisans so that big development projects like the affordable housing one and other upcoming infrastructural developments can create decent jobs for Kenyans.
But even if the affordable housing project succeeds, the houses will still not be enough. Statistics from the National Housing Corporation (NHC) indicate that the country has a cumulative housing deficit of 2 million housing units, which grows by 200,000 units annually, driven mainly by a rapid population growth and high urbanisation rate.
In contrast, supply, has been limted, with Ministry of Housing estimates putting the total annual supply at 50,000 units.
“Going forward, there is a need for the government to think of how it can provide incentives to the private sector to invest in social housing, if a sustainable solution is to be found,” Mr Mandere said.
Mr Mandere says it is advisable to standardize the building plans and designs for each category of the planned buildings to facilitate mass production of housing.
In addition, it will increase efficiency because the appropriate precast technologies for the designs can be customised to save time.
This will not only make them cost-effective, but also help reduce wastage of material and labour costs. These savings will affect the pricing of the houses.
“The cost of a product is pegged on the rate of productivity and time it takes to do, which is critical to attaining 1 million affordable homes,” says Mr Mandere.
An aspect that Mr Mandere says has not been considered is maintenance, more, given the pathetic state most government-owned social housing schemes in the country. Many have no fencing, blocked sewer lines, poor drainage and leaking roofs. These housing schemes have failed since they have not added any value to the citizens that they were meant to serve.
“We have seen in the past how ambitious government social housing schemes have encountered technical failure due to poor workmanship. This applies to housing, bridges and even newly constructed roads,” Mr Mandere observed.
He cites the newly-constructed Ngong Road in Nairobi, which has been flooding.
“Flooding on roads causes traffic jams and can lead to flooding in homes it it spills over,” he said. When water flows on tarmac for prolonged periods, the roads develop potholes.
He noted that this happens for lack of a maintenance policy. In the case of housing, a maintenance policy provides a basis for builders to refer on what kind of maintenance is required. Infrastructural projects, public and privately built houses should have a maintenance policy to avoid failure, said Mr Mandere. Structural failure comes with many costs, such as loss of human life, and the loss of property that accompanies destruction.
The collapse of a building could be due to a bad foundation, poor workmanship and neglect when there is no maintenance. In practice, a maintenance policy would guide on some principles and standards on the materials used, the actual building itself, and the maintenance of the finished product. All these have to be in harmony.
“We are saying, why not set the policies straight so that each of these factors is considered at the design state of the construction, and maintenance?” he says.
He says there is a need for a policy to subject all public construction projects too technical audits throughout the construction. This will not only ensure safety on building and construction sites, but also the quality of projects, transparency and accountability. “The audits will go a long way to minimise wastage of public funds that is experienced in most construction projects, besides reducing, and possibly eliminating, malpractices,” said Mr Mandere. To realise this, quantity surveyors should undertake technical audits for construction and infrastructure projects.
“These audits should be over and above the financial audits. We propose that a small allowance be included in the contracts to cover the cost of technical audits as this would ease budgetary constraints,” he added.
However, quantity surveyors have for long been locked out of infrastructure project by the same law that is meant to promote the profession’s interests, something that has given way to corruption as costs are escalated in major infrastructural development projects.
“As of today, only engineers are involved in infrastructural projects. He/she designs, documents, does valuations, does the final accounts and so on. As a result, there are no checks and balances in infrastructural development projects as there are in buildings. It is quantity surveyors who bring those balances,” Mr Mandere said. It is a principle of transparency to have checks and balances and human beings are likely to have malpractices if they are not checked, he added.
To further reduce on the cost of failure of construction projects, the association called on Kenyans to use professionals. “The cost of human or property loss is much higher than hiring a quantity surveyor who will ensure that things go right,” said Mr Mandere. On average, quantity surveyors are paid about 2.5 per cent of entire construction budget. But if a building has repetitive floors, or similar repetitive units, as happens in gated community developments and social housing projects, that percentage is much lower.
There is the opportunity cost of not using a quantity surveyor. “You might not know whether you are overpaying, as you do not have a basis for agreeing on what to pay your contractor because you will not have specified the costs and quantities to go into the construction budget,” he advised. Overpaying or underpaying both have repercussions.
The construction industry Kenya is picking up after a two-year politicking period.
“From as early as mid-2016, when the clamour for the removal of the former IEBC, until the end of the electioneering period, mid-last year and even until the handshake, it is like the construction industry and the economy had halted,” said Mr Mandere.
He welcomed the affordable housing project under the Big Four Agenda as “a promising undertaking that, if well implemented, would spur growth in the local construction sector”.
“It has the potential to empower developers, builders, artisans, quantity surveyors, engineers, local contractors and encourage investment in the industry,” he observed. “After the handshake, there is a lot of optimism and hope that the sector will accelerate.”
To discuss about the Request for Proposals in the Big Four Agenda housing plan and how it can be achieved with efficiency, and on budget, the professional outfit has proposed that the relevant government body in-charge of the Big Four Agenda call for a multi-sectoral consultative conference with the national government, county governments, developers and all construction professional bodies to seek solutions.
“We need to think out of the box and to discuss the matter with no prejudices and influences to find sustainable solutions,” said Mr Mandere. He added that there is a need for the demands in the Requests for Proposals to be revised so that local firms can also play a role in the realisation of affordable housing.
The association further called on construction companies in the country to embrace technology and devote resources to research and development. “It will spur growth when local companies can benchmark with international companies on the latest building and construction technologies,” he said.
He observed that the need for continuous training across the building sector – roads, housing bridges, dams and railway lines – was a glaring need that cannot be ignored if the sector is to grow and tap into emerging infrastructural development in East Africa.