Community-financed housing in Africa

By Acumen on March 24, 2006

Jacqueline Novogratz recently spent 10 days in Africa visiting current and potential Acumen Fund investments. We will be posting excerpts from her journal of the trip. The complete journal can be found here.

Africa - Pamoja1.jpgOur hosts from Pamoja Trust come right at 3:00, as promised. Pamoja is a nonprofit housing advocacy group that works with coalitions of community organizations that organize residents in large savings and loans programs to create access and, ultimately, title to secure housing and land. Jane Weru, a human rights lawyer turned housing advocate, arrives wearing a bright orange silk shirt and a deep green shawl with a turquoise necklace around her neck. With her is an improbably tall man named Joseph whose role I can’t discern, and finally, a short woman named Anna who will be showing us her new home.

I turn to Joseph and ask what he does with Pamoja. “I sell second-hand clothing in Toi Market,” he tells me.

Toi Market is one of the largest informal markets in Nairobi, located in Kibera, one of the city’s infamous slums. I remember in the mid-eighties a program to legalize the hawkers who were selling goods on the streets. They were supposed to be given licenses, but for the most part this never happened. I ask Joseph whatever happened to all of the hawkers, and he seems to take slight offense that I might consider him to be one of them. “I am a trader, not a hawker,” he tells me. “I have a legal stall in the marketplace.” I got it.

Toi Market. It is where the “Jua Kali” workers can be found even now. Jua Kali (meaning “hot sun” in Swahili) was a program for people who worked outside to make sandals out of abandoned rubber tires, craft wasted metal into tools, repair small mechanical items. There are now 2,500 stalls for 5,000 traders representing 42 different categories. Women sell fresh vegetables, dried foodstuffs, baskets and sundries. The second-hand clothing traders are among the biggest businesses. Joseph had lived in Kibera since he was three and sold in the market since he was a boy. I don’t understand exactly why he is with us, but assume he also helped organize communities for housing. Little do I know…

The car drives to the outskirts of the city center, and we come upon what used to be a squatter settlement. For three years, Pamoja Trust fought with the Nairobi City Council to secure a little more than an acre of land
on which they would resettle some 200 families. (I find it fascinating that such land battles often take three years to resolve – witness the experience of Tasneem Sidiqqui, our housing investee in Pakistan.) Once they received title, they transferred it to a community with which they’d been working to save and invest together for five years.

The area is more open than the older, crowded slums of Nairobi. Dirt roads are flanked not by cardboard shacks but three-floor homes made of concrete. Roadside fruit stands stand randomly along the road. Children are everywhere walking, playing. On the step outside one house are several plants and a few pairs of shoes, left while the family is inside. There is a sense of home, of neighborhood.

Anna proudly takes us to her three-story “starter home.” We walk through the front door into a small room, which is maybe 8 by 10 feet. The cream-colored room is divided in two by a sheer white curtain. In the front half, four chairs stand crowded around a small table, leaving little leg or walking room. Behind the curtain sits the family bed. To the left is a tiny kitchen with a basin and shelf in front of a small window, but no stove. Some pots and three kerosene lamps complete the living space where the family of four stays. The next floor houses only a toilet behind a turquoise metal door; otherwise, the concrete platform stands waiting for walls to be erected. Same with the final floor where the water tank stands – a 55 liter black plastic barrel that captures the rain and then pipes it downstairs – an incredible luxury in a place where clean water is scarce and expensive.

Anna has put 10% of 110,000 shillings down – or about $150; this was matched with savings from the community. The rest is borrowed from the AMT Trust, a community revolving fund created with grant monies and managed in conjunction with Pamoja. Tenants pay 12 percent interest – or 1 percent a month. Once Anna has saved additional money and created a sound track record of payments, she can add the two additional floors for another Ksh70,000 or about $1,000 (again, by putting down 10% or $100, matching funds with community savings and then borrowing the additional $800).

I stand with Anna, Jane, Joseph, Brian and Peter Chege, the community’s official leader for its first five years, outside where the second floor will be. Anna is rightfully proud of what she has accomplished and is focused on earning more to improve the first home she has ever owned. Peter is even prouder of how his community has changed itself.

Other Articles From Our Blog

Acumen Blog

Here's to you, Mary Robinson...

Read More

Acumen Blog

Overcoming perceptions in and of the Muslim world...

Read More

Our World

Insurance products for the poor...

Read More

Get Our Newsletter To Stay Up To Date