How the Kenyan church can house 1/4 of Nairobi’s population.
General reports indicate that Kenya’s housing demand stands at about 200,000 housing units a year with a backlog of about 1.85 million units. According to the national census carried out in 2009, Nairobi’s population was estimated at 3.1 million people. In 2018, this number is expected to be above 4 million people.
For over 50 years, the church has been doing a great job with sponsoring schools and mission hospitals. In the current day, the church has stepped up in an effort to remain relevant to its congregations and introduced micro-finance banks and SACCOS. All that is commendable
Due to the long existence of the church in Kenya, most main stream churches own large tracks of very prime land valued at billions of shillings. Unfortunately, most of this land lies idle or the church administrators are planning on subdividing and selling it to speculators.
There is a new cry in the streets today. The cry for affordable housing. The church seems to focus on building state of the art auditoriums, shopping malls and 5 star hotels or even buying prime commercial properties in Nairobi CBD. In my opinion, there is something critically wrong with this approach.
The trust that the Christians and the state have placed in the church should be handled with a lot of care especially from the clergymen, church development committees and the church elders.
When the church begins to have a capitalist mindset when investing the surplus that the congregation has cheerfully given, it loses its influence and voice.
Imagine with me a country where the churches are keen to build houses for their churchgoers either for sale (at a moderate profit) or for rent at a reasonable rate. The church then partners with the Central or County Government to get services closer to those estates. This way they will be meeting a real need.
Let’s look at some figures. We do not have a database with records on how the various congregations give and how much is surplus. However, we can make some assumptions.
Kenya is said to be 80% Christian but let us assume that only 1/4 of Kenya’s 40 million population attends church every Sunday and the average offering is Kshs 100 per person. Per year, the Kenyan church will have collected 1/4 x 40 million x Kshs 100 x 52 Sundays per year = Kshs 52 billion. We all know that the actual figure is about 10 times this because our math has ignored tithes, “seed” and special offerings but let’s work with our conservative estimate. Assume that any money above the Kshs 100 per person is used up in missions and administrative costs.
What can Kshs 52 billion a year do to sort out the housing crisis in Kenya?
Assume you build 2 bedroom standard finished apartments measuring 80 square meters. Let’s work with the Kenyan Joint Building Council guide on cost of construction for high rise residential apartments in Nairobi of about Kshs 35,000 per square meter. This means that the cost of construction per unit is Kshs 35,000 per square meter x 80 square meters = 2.8 million. If the construction is large scale, you benefit from economies of scale and so the cost of construction can reduce to say Kshs 2 million per unit or less. This cost can still come down significantly if the Government provided basic services and amenities to those properties.
Let’s assume that the churches decide to do these developments on the expansive land that they already own or that the Government offers the land for free. Then the cost of land is not considered in our calculations.
So with the Kshs 52 billion how many 2 bedroom apartments costing 2 million to construct can we build per year? 52 billion divided by 2 million = 26,000 two bedroom apartments per year. Let us be conservative again and round this off to say 25,000 apartments per year. Assume that each apartment is occupied by 3 adults and two children, these 25,000 apartments can house in excess of 100,000 people.
According to the national census carried out in 2009, Nairobi’s population was estimated at 3.1 million people. In 2018, I estimate this number to be above 4 million people.
To bring this estimate in context, if this investment in affordable housing is repeated for 10 years, the church will have housed about 1 million people which is equivalent to housing 1 of every 4 Nairobi residents.
If I was asked to actualize this concept, this is what I would do.
- The construction of church buildings. We spend hundreds of millions of Shillings building church buildings that we only use for less than 20 hours a week. This is equivalent to using it for less than a total of 4 days a month. Instead the churches should be encouraged to lease buildings and halls or meet in tents.
- Stakeholder engagement
- Host a nationwide meeting of all the Senior Pastors and Bishops to map the way forward.
- Work closely with Non-Governmental Organizations and Development partners to provide basic services and even cheaper loans that can be administered by local banks only for use in construction and purchasing the affordable houses.
- Work closely with Central and County Governments to offer services e.g. Water, electricity, sewer and roads in parcels more than 10 acres whether owned by churches or private individuals who have approved plans. The National Youth Service can be used to build access roads and other infrastructure.
- Offer community policing in estates bigger than 20 acres. The developer to be allowed to put up a few units for the police to live within the estate. The National Police Services to offer guidelines on the specifications of the housing.
- Put a cap on the selling price of each unit.
- Place a cap on the number of units that an individual or company can buy. Say a maximum of two units for an individual and say 5 units for companies and organized groups.
- Offer tax incentives on stamp duty for those buying these affordable houses.
- Offer tax incentives on capital gains to the developers.
- Offer tax incentives to the cement and steel manufacturers who sell to the developers of these affordable houses.
I conclude with the words of Jesus from the Bible. “I was hungry and you fed me, thirsty and you gave me a drink; I was a stranger and you received me in your homes, naked and you clothed me; I was sick and you took care of me, in prison and you visited me.’ Matthew 25:35-36 GNT. When the Master comes, will he find the church meeting a real practical need?