State of Collapse: 65% of buildings in low income areas are not fit for human habitation - AAK

Collapsed houses in Nairobi

The recent cases of buildings collapsing in Makongeni and Huruma resulting in deaths, have triggered debate and apprehension among Nairobi residents. The fear of sub-standard buildings has further been reinforced by a shocking report by the Architectural Association of Kenya (AAK), claiming that more than 65 per cent of buildings in Nairobi’s densely populated low-income neighbourhoods are not fit for human habitation.

 “We can’t really verify that as a county government since we don’t know which variables the AAK used in their research. We can therefore not confirm that percentage,” Tom Odongo, the now suspended executive officer in charge of Planning and Housing at the Nairobi City County told The Nairobian a few hours before the directive to get him out of office.

“We are in the process of auditing buildings and have already condemned several in Dandora and Umoja that are earmarked for demolition,” he revealed.

On the two buildings that came down within one month, Odongo said the county government had done its job despite being hindered by legal red tape.

“Most of these substandard houses, including those that have collapsed, are owned by unscrupulous developers who capitalise on the huge demand for housing in the city,” he explained. “They will do everything to cut costs like use of low quality materials and inadequate mortar ratios,” he added.

He noted that some of the measures the county hopes to put in place include laws requiring developers to only use factory pre-mixed mortar to ensure the right cement, sand and concrete ratios are adhered to.

“The position of the law is that you must seek development approval before you can start any project,” he explained. “If the developer evades this process like many are doing in low-income areas like Mathare North, Pipeline and Umoja, then it means that as an authority, we don’t have any information on the quality of these buildings,” he said.

On whether corruption at the county government contributes to these substandard buildings, Odongo had this to say; “I think that is a wrong perception because buildings that have gone through the vetting process are not our problem. The media should help us in making this clear.” He added that the problem is with developers who do not seek approval and are don’t engage the right technical professionals to execute the projects.

According to him, corruption cannot be blamed because most of the collapsed buildings were never approved in the first place.

“We can’t blame corruption because approval applications are done online and we actually never know who the applicants are. We have been doing the process online for the last one year,” he explained. “The developers have to do this through architects registered with us,” he disclosed.

The approval is usually in two stages. The first approval is to get a construction permit applied through a registered architect, with an account at the NCC, which enables them to access the county government’s online services. Once the applications are submitted, they are checked by the technical committee before a decision is made. The technical committee is comprised of external experts from AAK, National Environmental Management Authority (NEMA), Kenya Institute of Surveying and Mapping, among other bodies.

Once approval has been granted, architects become the lead consultants and sign declarations binding them to supervise the projects to their completion to ensure they adhere to required standards. Failure to do that might lead to the architects being deregistered, a fate none have suffered so far since NCC claims all have adhered to the rules.

After verification that all professional requirements have been adhered to, an occupation certificate is issued upon application by the lead consultant.

“The problem we have is that in places like Embakasi, Baba Dogo, Pipepline and Kasarani, developers decide to operate outside the law, disregarding approval requirements by NCC,” Odongo said. “What we need to look at is how to bridge the gap by empowering tenants with civic education since they are the end users.”

Buildings in these areas are not supposed to exceed four storeys, but the one that collapsed in Huruma had seven floors, while the Makongeni one had six.

Owners of the buildings that have collapsed, Odongo claimed, have been prosecuted, with the Makongeni developer being charged with manslaughter, while the one in Huruma is still on the run.

The NCC plans to do an audit of all buildings in high risk areas and come up with a legislation called Regularisation Bill. This Bill is already at the County Assembly. Once it becomes law, the legislation will create a 12-month window compelling any developer who had put up a building without approval to allow for immediate audit and readjustments to meet required standards.

“The second level will be preventing the construction of risky buildings by making the current legislation more punitive to curb rogue developers,” Odongo explained. “The process of enforcement can easily be stopped by the culprits through the courts, which I believe favours the developers,” he claimed.

In a year, NCC approves around 3,000 projects, but the authorities believe that at least 30 per cent of the constructions in the city are not approved.