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Residents of Old Council Housing Give Views on New City Master Plan

In Nairobi public consultations on the preparation of a new City Master plan has been going on for the last two weeks. The month long consultations started on 20th January and are expected to end on 13th February covering all the 23 constituencies in the City County. They have been organized by the City Planning Department at convenient venues such as social halls, church compounds, school compounds and administrative centers. (http://citymasterplan.nairobi.go.ke)

On Thursday, 6th February, one such consultation took place at Jericho Social Hall in Makadara constituency which includes some of the old council housing (Jericho, Jerusalem, Lumumba, Makongeni, Maringo, Hamza and Viwandani). Similar to others, the forum started with prayers and introductions. It was well attended with over one hundred and twenty participants. Such was the contrast in the composition of the participants unlike the other forums. Seated in the front rows were participants comprising of old women and a few old men, much in their late sixties. It turned out that they are the remaining of original tenants allocated council housing when they were built in the early sixties.

The other group of participants seated behind was the youth (boys and girls), apparently less than twenty five years old– who claimed to be children of original tenants and others from nearby slum called Viwandani. Both political and administrative leaders addressed the participants and urged them to give their views towards the plan. The political leaders outlined the main challenges facing the area such as poor public utilities, poor infrastructure, and unemployment of the youth.

The introductions were followed by a power point presentation from the City Planning Department. The presentation shared the findings of situation analysis done by the JICA consultants – covering objectives of the master plan, approach to the process, population analysis and forecasting, the city economy, transport analysis and proposals for city structure, infrastructure, land re-adjustment, sub centre development and urban renewal. Following the presentation the participants were organized into four groups to discuss challenges facing the area, priority needs and proposals for action. The groups comprised of land use and human settlements, population and urban economy, infrastructure, transportation and environment, and governance and institutional arrangements.

At the land use and human settlements group, the central issue turned out to be debate on the proposed ‘urban renewal’ of old council estates in the Eastlands. During the introductions the politicians (Member of Parliament and Members of County Assembly) had called for proper consultations and study to be done before the project takes place. (see video http://youtu.be/DIk-eITaaEM) They called for a baseline survey (profile) to determine the bona fide tenants and residents of the area. They opposed any relocation and piecemeal approach to the programme and criticized the erection of bill boards on proposals before adequate consultation. The residents discussed the main challenges of the neighborhoods as poor maintenance of public utilities, grabbing of public spaces, illegal housing extensions, and activities in the areas.

On public spaces discussions revealed considerable grabbing of land designated for public uses (schools, health centres, play grounds and social halls. Land grabbing had led to proliferation of activities incompatible with adjacent institutions such as bars, kiosks and churches next to schools and health centres making learning difficult and having negative influence on the learners.  The residents called for new public facilities like rescue centres, social halls and youth playgrounds provided with services such as water and sanitation chambers. Due to insecurity some neighborhoods have closed through roads greatly disadvantaging those who use the roads.

A second thorny issue in Eastlands was the erecting of illegal structures and extensions within the estates. When asked by County officials the reasons for doing so the residents sought to justify their action on account of creating additional space for grown up children and siblings. They did not consider it wrong for a number of reasons. According to them there was a promise of allocating them the units after many years of paying rents, although there is no such written agreement. Others considered that the rent they paid covered control of proximate areas to the units.  Some of the residents spoke of problems arising from the extensions and temporary structures, such as increased crime and incidence of drug abuse. The temporary structures include churches which are source of loud noise and which block light. It was also reported that many of the temporary units often rented for additional income bring in strangers to the neighborhood. Cases were also reported of people selling their units as good will while the new buyers continue to pay rent using the name of the original tenancy.

It became evident that old council housing in Eastlands had acquired complex relations. Majority of the original (male) tenants have either passed away of retired to rural areas. The units have been passed on to their wives, children or grandchildren. Others have moved out of the areas and have sublet the units or sold them. This creates a complex situation for compiling the bona fide tenants and residents for either compensation or allocation of social housing after the urban renewal. The County Social worker advised all the bona fide tenants to regularize their tenancy by either applying for change of allocation to avoid being dispossessed.    According to the officials, they should visit the relevant county office with authentic documents for transfer.  The residents asked for clarification from City County to dispel their fears. The City County officials explained that the decay of the neighborhood necessitated urban renewal. However, it would be done in a transparent manner to avoid gentrification, while creating opportunity for more housing, and employment through mixed development and improved urban infrastructure.

At the end of the consultations it was clear that the residents have major concerns about the proposed urban renewal and adequate sensitization is needed to build community support of the process. (See video http://youtu.be/o2l6KU9gHlE) Equally, the planning of the renewal should be sensitive to the areas historical legacy, the wellbeing of both the remaining old tenants (or wives), their children and grandchildren. The issue of youth unemployment came out strongly and needs to be addressed. Rising levels of crime and insecurity are likely linked to the large number of unemployed youth.

 

Posted by CURI, 8th February 2014

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