Will the Kwangu-Kwako houses replace existing/currently inhabited houses? If so, where do the tenants from those houses go then?

  • We do not expect landlords to remove operational houses to rebuild with our structure, so we will not be evicting people from their homes.
  • When they do need to replace their homes, we want them to replace with safer, more secure houses that offer the important feeling of permanence to tenant families. We believe our sales will be generated from 3 main scenarios:
  1. Replacement following a total or partial loss after a fire event - Following a fire, displaced families are usually accommodated by friends, family or churches in the area for the 2-3 weeks to clear the area and replace the houses with mabati ( Iron sheets) homes (part new mabati but sometimes with mabati recycled from the fire debris!). Normally, families then return to mabati houses in the same locations that they were living in before the fire. This is distressing after the trauma of the previous fire! We believe replacing such houses with our product has  a significant contribution as it not only provides additional reassurance and confidence to recently displaced people, it also helps reduce the spread of future fires on this plot and reduces the likelihood of fires on this plot spreading to adjacent mabati houses. Therefore, the advantage of our houses goes way beyond our four walls. Our houses can be built in a similar time to mabati houses. Permanent stone/concrete houses get bogged down in approvals and can take over a year, sometimes 2 years to build. Not practical when so many people are displaced by fire every year.
  2. Lifecycle replacement – Landlords replace houses at varying levels of deterioration, a few leave the houses until they are virtually derelict, most are more responsible. The rental value keep dropping as the property declines until it reaches either, an uneconomic level, or it is at such a level that it is uninhabitable. At these points we feel the pricing and advantages of our product are placed well to encourage the landlord to rebuild in our precast rather than mabati.
  3. New build – in the rare situation where a new plot becomes available, we want to ensure the landlord has the opportunity to build safer, more permanent housing from the onset, rather than temporary mabati houses.
  • Our product is encouraging a slow and steady improvement of the housing stock at a level that is within the reach of the poor who are beginning to improve their lives just a little.
  • Certainly tenants who have recently lost everything they own in a fire will very much value the increased safety our homes provide and that it helps avoid families having the significant expense of replacing ones worldly possessions. That is far more expensive than a little more rent. Especially, given the frequency of fires in some areas (Mathare there is claimed to be a fire every two days!).

Are we gentrifying slums?

  • We are building 10ft x 10ft, 11ft x 11ft, 12ft x 12ft and a variety of those measurements in single roomed houses, the same size as the houses we are replacing. We are providing solid walls rather than thin metal sheet. Who would deprive people this opportunity of a small but significant improvement? How this can be defined as “gentrification” puzzles us...
  • We are improving the living conditions of people in the slums by delivering solid walls, safety, security and a feeling of permanence.

The concern is that, with the introduction of the Kwangu-Kwako housing option, the poorest of the poor will be the ones suffering and possibly be worse off, as they get pushed out, further away.

  • Refer to FAQ 1 on houses to be replaced.
  • It is important to clarify what the “poorest of the poor” means and put it in perspective.Additionally clarify slum housing and rental levels.


The majority of the people living in the slums are poor. Many have informal work, small stalls, sell goods on the roadside etc. Those who are lucky to have regular casual work are mostly on minimum wage. In Nairobi Kenya that is Ksh 527 per day (10,540-12,648/month for 20 & 24 days respectively that is $103-124/month or $5 dollars a day). Those who have regular jobs will mostly earn Ksh 15-25,000 per month ($150-200 dollars a month - $7.5-10 per day). In this case people and certainly those on less regular/formal income often share housing. The youth especially can live 2-5 people in one roomed house to share the rental cost. The average occupation levels in Nairobi are most often stated as 5 people per house, many have more than one income earner. When the house cost is shared between 2 or more people then rents become more affordable. A more solid, precast concrete home is much more comfortable to live in when space is tight and your neighbors are otherwise a thin sheet of metal away.

So while we may not always be benefiting “the poorest of the poor” we are definitely benefiting the poor and needy, who, when they do loose property in fires are among the “poor of the poor”. Preventing this slide is imperative.

It is important to remember that those who were at the bottom of the income profile have a hard time climbing out. Giving them a helping hand by providing an alternative that breaks the huge gap between mabati houses and larger stone houses, we feel, is essential. It avoids people being trapped.We try to help them maintain the momentum and slowly improve their situation. To greatly reduce the risk of loss of your home and possessions to fire and provide an important feeling of permanence and security is invaluable on this journey.

Our houses will be rented at more than mabati houses rate but less than other stone houses that are available and letting in the community. There is demand for these stone houses from people living in the slums but they are not available. There are around 400,000 houses in the slums of Nairobi. The vast percentage of those are mabati and bush pole structures. We hope to deliver 3,000 homes in 5 years – less than 1% of the total. The impact these few homes will make on people’s lives is significant. We are meeting the need and demand for improved housing from those living in the slums. We are helping the poor and those who are beginning to make some traction to improve their situation and get an improved home. Who would deprive them of that opportunity?

Meanwhile, we do also think that by raising the quality of the “average” middle section of the slum property market, we will, in time, improve the bottom. By demonstrating that there is actually an alternative to mabati houses, we will begin to accelerate the take up of our homes and increase the impact further. The more are available, the more competition and in time, we believe, that the proportionate rent will come down. 

We should not exclude the greater proportion of people from accessing improved housing by focusing on the extreme poor portion of the community (again we repeat this is all relative, in the slums most are on less than $150 a month). While they do need the help, this can be done by charitable or non-governmental organisation’s but not by a social enterprise model.

However, Kwangu-Kwako could partner with an organization to subsidize homes to those most in need. There could perhaps be 3 way agreement between ourselves, a donor and a land owner to provide housing at a subsidized rent. This would be a great addition to our offer and if there is an organization who wishes to partner with us to subsidize/fund buying or renting land and/or building our houses to offer them at a less than market rate for those most in need, we would be very interested in talking to you. There are many complexities around making this work but with the perseverance and drive we have demonstrated to date we are sure we could make this work if an organization could provide the funding for the subsidy.

How do you see the ultimate process evolve of where the Kwangu-Kwako houses will be built, who decides, at what point?

  • Refer to the feedback regarding “will we be replacing existing houses”(FAQ 1)
  • “Evicting poor residents above” (FAQ 2).
  • The landlords and community decide. We provide a viable, safer more secure alternative to the most common choice of metal sheet and bush pole houses at the time the rebuild decision is being made.

What is the expected rent for a Kwangu-Kwako house?

  • We have investigated rental levels in both the Informal settlements of Kangemi and Kawangware for the house sizes we are offering (between 10 and 12 feet) the following rentals seem to apply:
    • 10 x 10 or 10 x 11 –Ksh 2500-3,500 for mabati compared to Ksh5,000-7,000 for stone.
    • 12 x 12 or 12 x 11 –Ksh 3,500 -4,000 for mabati compared to 8,500 for stone.
  • We expect our houses to come in at or below stone in the circa 5-6,000 mark depending on size. These is feedback we received from both landlords and tenants visiting the show house in Kangemi, both stakeholder groups suggest the expected rental levels noted above. This demonstrates that the likely maket price and willingness to pay are at similar levels.
  • Feedback to date about the general market indicates that informal settlement landlords expect payback in around 2 years. With new build mabati houses being Ksh50-65,000 that gives a rent of Ksh2,100-2,700 to be paid back in 2 years so the rental Ksh2,500-3,500 noted above makes sense.

For our product at Ksh 99,000 for a 10ft x 10ft or Ksh120,000 for a 12ft x 12ft the comparable suggests Ksh4,125 andKsh5,000 respectively. This seems to support the above expectations on rent and possible even suggests a slightly lower rent might be achievable.

How can Kwangu-Kwako ensure that their homes will be offered at a rate that is affordable to the very poor as opposed to being used as a tool by landlords to increase rents and push out those who just lost their home in a fire? 

  • Refer to the FAQ 2: Gentrification. The houses are still 10 x 10 ft or 12 x 12 ft single room houses, hardly gentrification? We are simply providing an alternative wall in reality.
  • Regarding causes of replacement of houses – refer FAQ 1 above.
  • Regarding rent levels, it is likely that the landlord will be replacing a poor quality, poorly built house with a new good quality one. The rent will go up slightly, yes, it would be naive to think otherwise, however, the difference is not great and with the frequency of house sharing and the other added value benefits the Ksh 1,000-2,000 a month extra for a significant improvement we feel will be affordable and welcomed by many.
  • We also feel that there is demand for better housing but the gap between mabati and stone is too great. We provide a vital option in that gap. Where people move into our houses they may vacate a good mabati house. This in turn can allow others to move up the quality of mabati house standard too as they also climb out of poverty. This slow and steady “cycle of improvement” is what we are helping to deliver

How do the “would-be” tenants feel about Kwangu-Kwako homes?

  • Here is an abstract from a soon to be posted blog for the website:   In October 2015, we showed existing tenants computer mock ups of what we were planning here are some of the comments we heard:
  • “That would be amazing, a permanent home”
  • “I would be so proud to live in that” a big smile and then “my friends would be soooo jealous!”
  • “To have a real house that would be great”
  • “Where can I rent one of those”
  • “You have to do this!”
  • That was all last year when we were questioning ourselves a lot, “should we do this?”, “are we crazy?”…. etc. The feedback was hugely motivating, inspiring and encouraging.
  • In March 2016 when we showed a few tenants from the Kangemi and Mukuru communities the prototype, in addition to comments similar to above, we also heard:
  • “Wow, it is lovely and so cool, our houses get so hot” – Ruth from Kangemi - that day it was approaching 30 degrees outside.
  • “This is very solid and safe” – JJ, Kangemi - said as he banged his fist repeatedly on the wall, reinforcing his point.
  • “I want to get one of these for my Mum!” – Felister, Mukuru
  • “If someone is coming to steal, we would hear them and have time to scream for help.”

How will those who get Kwangu-Kwako homes be viewed by others (possible to be alienated or targeted)?

  • There will always be those who are jealous of others and bitter, hopefully a minority. We should not let these spiteful few take away an opportunity for the majority.
  • In reality in most slums there are good areas and bad areas, good houses and poor houses, just like any other society. Within the slums themselves people move from one area to another as they move up (or down) the social spectrum through life’s ups and downs.

What are the profiles of those that will live in Kwangu-Kwako homes vs. others living in the slums?

  • Refer to the FAQ 2 above which has a section on incomes.

Essentially though, all mixes, single mothers, young families, youth, older people. The demographic of slums though tends to bulge around the 15-34 age groups.


Graph taken from page 9 of - African Population and Health Research Center (APHRC). 2014. Population and Health Dynamics in Nairobi’s Informal Settlements: Report of the Nairobi Cross-sectional Slums Survey (NCSS) 2012. Nairobi: APHRC

  • Single mothers help each other by looking after each other’s children while the other is at work. Those that don’t have this support network will take the kids with them while they work, man a stall or sell by the roadside
  • Others, who don’t have the childcare challenge will do similar work, search for casual work, run a shared motorcycle taxi, etc.
  • Those we meet in the slums are mostly very hard working, imaginative in where and how to earn money, often have multiple skills, work depending on what is available, anything to keep the money coming in, however small in order to pay for the house, send the children to school etc.
  • We don’t anticipate the above profile being any different in our homes. Maybe because of the slight increase in rent, it will be the more successful at those jobs but the demographic will be similar.

Who are the landlords?

  • They are individuals or groups of people who own land with the evidence of a title deed from the Kenyan government lands office. These may be through outright purchase, inheritance or gift etc.
  • They build structure: houses to let, homes, commercial buildings (schools, hospitals, clinic, churches etc.) and other structures.

In some communities or areas people may not have the title deed or evidence that the land belongs to them or that they have the right to use it. These cases are familiar in slum areas and local leaders are handy and are knowledgeable and able to offer guidance and support.

How will the landlords manage to pay?

  • We are currently working with micro finance and other impact finance organisations to provide loans with alternative securities to title deeds e.g using the building as security and having the rents paid direct to the finance organization or an agent until the loan is paid off, etc. We are happy to talk to finance organisations who feel they may be able to offer such a product or an alternative.
  • Many belong to “chamas” which are organized groups” – social and common interest groups of people who contribute regular sums of money into a pot that is then used to provide loans at a preferential interest, a revolving fund. The groups have shared ownership of the pot and meet to agree who gets the next lump for a specific need.
  • Similarly there are many Saccos in Kenya, either work based or other groups. Again regular payments are made and loans can be requested, usually at much better interest than commercial bank .
  • Family members often provide soft loans to each other where necessary.

Finally there is commercial lending. However, culturally there is a reluctance to put ones title deed at risk.

How would we deal with possibly shady landlords?

We firmly believe that it is not possible to make any discernible impact without dealing with the people (The landlords) who control circa 85% of the housing stock in the informal settlements. We do however, need to be clear that we might encounter some of them therefore; early intelligence gathering and a progressively improving local knowledge will help improve our ability to ensure we work with people who clearly want to see informal settlements improve greatly.  So far, the landlords we have dealt with and encountered have beenfair and keen on the opportunity to improve the community and of course their investments.