Nic Hailey speaks at UK-Kenya Symposium exploring affordable housing solutions and initiatives

Nic Hailey at UK Kenya Housing Symposium
Nic Hailey speaking at the Healthy Cities Housing Symposium. Photo: Twitter/UKinKenya

The second day of the UK-Kenya housing symposium at Strathmore University began yesterday with discussions on affordable housing as an enabler for achieving.

In his opening address, British High Commissioner Nic Hailey said: “‘The UK is proud to support the Big 4 Agenda and to work with the Kenyan Government to address the challenge of affordable housing. 

“This symposium will enable us to leverage research, technology and innovation to deliver on this policy priority”, he told attendees, expressing the desire to leverage UK-Kenya research partnerships and align them with the Big Four Agenda.

As the panel discussions got underway, the UN Resident Co-ordinator Siddharth Chatterjee argued that the basic dignity of people starts with housing as he explored affordable Housing as an enabler for the SDGs.

The panel went on to look at ways of leapfrogging affordable housing in Kenya through the convergence of Big Data, Technology and Innovation. Mr Chatterjee commended the Kenyan government for having made housing a key priority in its Big 4 agenda.

“The opportunities are immense. What is holding us back is our imagination,” he said.

Other speakers during the day included Duncan Onyango who described how the British government’s £60 million SUED programme is supporting 10 cities to develop sustainable urban development plans.

Professor Peter Piot gave an overview of UK investment in research for development and the Kenya-specific funding landscape. He gave attendees a timely reminder that there is no magic bullet for development challenges, highlighting the importance of multidisciplinary and multi- stakeholder partnerships.

He went on to say that researchers and policy makers need to listen to people whose lives they are trying to improve and link to implementation and other investment. 

“We need new ways of thinking to meet challenges of climate change and identify what works. This is not just research for the sake of research. This is research to improve the lives of people,” he said.

Mark Pelling and his team used their spot on the agenda to introduce the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) and United Kingdom Research and Innovation (UKRI) “Tomorrow’s Cities” Research Hub that is focuses on reducing urban disaster risk for the poor in Nairobi and other cities around the globe.

Prof Steve Lindsay spoke about the need for case studies on how to achieve effective multisectoral action to prevent unintended consequences of single sectoral action in climate change adaptation and community engagement from the start.

During another panel discussion, Kanyi Wyban, representing the Department for International Delvelopent’s Youth Panel said: “We should use this topic of affordable housing for a broader reach i.e. how do we ensure that affordable housing can for instance create jobs for the youth?”. They added that young people are coming together to take action within their environment, but feel socially excluded through struggles to gain education, healthcare and employment. 

Patrick Bucha, Housing Secretary, Kenya State department of Housing and Urban Development, remarked that housing was central to development through stimulating economy, and core to planning cities, including water and sanitation. He outlined how the state department is developing guidelines for social housing for the lowest income groups which can be paid for incrementally over a long period. 

He told the symposium that although building affordable housing is not the role of government, they will facilitate the private sector to do this.

“We need to train the youth to play roles here and are doing an inventory of skills. When we talk about housing and cities we need to understanding that all the other agendas, under the Big 4 agenda, revolve around housing,” he said before adding: “The question then is how best do we industrialize housing?”

Professor Winnie Mitullah stressed the importance of starting with the people who are already living in houses in informal settlements and look back at previous policy initiatives at the lessons learned from these. “How will new approaches built on them?” she asked.

Katherine Muoki, Director of Infrastructure, Science, Technology and Innovation at the State Department of Planning emphasised the importance of building partnerships across multiple stakeholders.

“Affordable housing is one of the key focus in the next 5 years,” he said, adding that it will stimulate the entire growth and development in the country.

“When the government talks about affordable housing, decent housing is not thrown out of the window. The important thing is to be able to have a multi sectoral approach. We need all sectors to be involved,” he said.

 Evidence Department Head, Sian Rasdale, highlighted the shared UK and Kenyan governments’ interest in innovation, science and technology along with the importance of connecting research with communities, their challenges and their priorities for their neighbourhoods.

“This is about building communities and neighbourhoods, not just houses. We must work together to ensure evidence is joined up with science, technology and the voices of the people who will be impacted,” she said.

Kenyan politician Christopher Obure explained that to be able to achieve the Big 4 Agenda, “massive investments” are needed which was why they were looking for investors.

“There are many opportunities in our country. The government needs to therefore create an enabling environment for investors,” he said.

Jack Makau shared a story of everyday innovation in Mukuru, explaining that informal settlements are not only a challenge but an opportunity for community, research and policy worlds to come together. Introducing the Mukuru Special Planning Area, he said it presents an opportunity in terms of vibrant economy despite many challenges including health and education.

Jaideep Gupte from The Institute of Development Studies (IDS) emphasised the highly contested nature of building opportunities for dignified lives in informal settlements.

“We need strong evidence that reflects everyday realities of living there. Slum dweller-led evidence generation is critical,” he told attendees at the symposium.

Winnie Gitau and Simon Dixon on Kwangu-Kwaku delivered what was described as an ‘inspiring presentation’ on the social enterprise approach to building low-cost semi-permanent houses.

More inspiration came from Kevin Mureithi on innovative roofing tiles using plastic waste collected by informal waste-pickers, which not only provide waste pickers with an income but also saves 30 per cent in building costs.

Towards the end of the day, Tatu Gatere outlined the inspiring approach of Buildher, which promotes women’s building and life skills development.

“We cannot develop healthy cities with 50 per cent of the population missing,” she said, “adding that they “help women understand what role they should play in the built environment.”

Jaideep Gupte from IDS brought the meeting to a close with reminders that innovation can be small, simple and grounded in daily realities. However, it was important not to shy away from tackling the political roots of stagnation and change in actualising rights.

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