Making true the elusive dream of home ownership

Housing cooperatives are communities of people who share a common interest. A housing cooperative can be developed for families, workmates, students, artists, or anyone else with a common housing need.

Wendy Kipsoi, 32, has always had a dream of owning a house. However, despite her efforts to save money on her own for this objective, she couldn’t raise the required amount.

So, when an opportunity to be part of a housing cooperative came through in 2018, she embraced it with both hands.She joined Vision 4 Youth Housing Cooperative Sacco Limited, whose sole objective is to provide adequate housing solutions to its members.

The cooperative comprises more than 120 members between the ages of 18 and 35. The idea behind the cooperative stems from the exclusion of young people in development. So, they came together to chart a housing future through savings and investments in land and property.

So far, they have been able to mobilise resources amounting to more than Sh3 million from members and have bought six acres of land, on which they hope to put up houses in the near future.

“Before Covid-19 came about, we used to contribute around Sh2,000 every month, but this amount has been reduced to Sh500, because members, who work in the informal sector, have been financially constrained by the pandemic. Each member now owns a 40 by 50 plot where the houses will be built,” says Kipsoi.

Maimuna Mohammed, a 60-year-old mother of three, is another housing cooperative member who awaits construction of her house. Maimuna’s dream of owning a home will be made possible by Remusi Housing Cooperative.

Since 2019 when she joined the cooperative, they have been able to mobilise resources amounting to Sh629,974 from among 28 members.

They have bought a quarter-acre piece of land for each member, and they hope to put up residential houses soon.

With less than 15 months left to run on his second and final term, President Uhuru Kenyatta faces a herculean task of delivering 500,000 houses to Kenyans as promised.

However, considering the fact that the country faces a backlog of two million houses, which continues to grow by 150,000 units every year because the country is unable to meet its 200,000 units demand, owning a home for many Kenyans seem to be a pipe dream.

Wendy and Maimuna, therefore, believe that the only hope left and surest way towards home ownership is through housing cooperatives.

Affordable housing

Yet, as Vision 4 Housing Cooperative Programmes manager Walter Odipo reveals, only a few people really understand how the model works, despite being around since the 1980s. “For those who understand the model, only a few appreciate how effective it can serve as a viable affordable housing solution,” he says.

This is why the model is yet to be embraced fully even though it is an important approach for housing middle and even some low-income families, at a reasonable cost. “Housing cooperatives are increasingly relevant as a housing strategy for the urban poor.

They play a significant role in the provision of residential housing. In fact, they have proved to be able to supply houses at prices that are significantly lower than the market price,” he said.

Members contribute equally as determined in a general meeting. The shares are for the purchase of a common piece of land with the title deed put under the name of the cooperative. The shares are also used for purposes of construction of same designed houses for the members with common spaces for the playground, common kitchen, laundry, security, and other social spaces.

Kennedy Simiyu, the programme officer at Swedish non-governmental organisation We Effect, which deals with adequate housing through development cooperation in Kenya, says that ever-increasing property prices in many parts of the country have pushed groups of like-minded people to come together to buy houses, something they would never be able to do individually.

“Housing cooperatives are communities of people who share a common interest. A housing cooperative can be developed for families, workmates, students, artists, or anyone else with a common housing need,” adds Simiyu.

He says cooperatives can either be economically oriented, which allows members to own plots and the burden of constructing the house is upon the member. Members are given individual titles and hence free to dispose of their plots to other members within the cooperative and occasionally to outsiders.

On the other hand, socially-oriented cooperatives don’t allow members to own any land since their aim is to promote social housing. In this case, the title of the land is owned by the cooperative. “We are promoting the social housing model because it does away with the discrimination and vulnerability issues. It promotes equal access to resources since all members raise resources together, buy property as a group and they benefit equally from their contribution,” says Simiyu.

Rising demand

Statistics from Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (2016) indicates that the country’s cooperative societies cumulatively have 10.8 million members. This vast membership, Walter and Kennedy agree, creates a big proportion of the demand side of housing. Added to that, cooperatives’ wide geographical spread means if calculated attempts to make cooperatives members homeowners were made, the country would solve the housing crisis sooner.

However, housing cooperatives face many challenges in achieving this dream. Housing cooperatives, such as Ukulima Housing Co-operative Housing Society and Posta Investment Cooperative Society have collapsed while others, such as Chai Housing Society and Kamuthi Housing are in dire financial problems.

Mismanagement and misuse of members funds, poor returns to member’s investment, poor governance, poor member patronage and aging membership, and poor capitalisation have been blamed for such failures.

The story was first published on the People Daily on August 5th, 2021 by Milliam Murigi.