Lifestyle

Middle-class blues: The cheapest, best places to live in Nairobi

Tenants are looking for affordable comfort to complement their lavish lifestyles and access to the opposite sex

Boot-preneurs: Massive job losses have forced Kenya’s middle class to become Mama and Baba Mbogas from the boot of their cars. Most have also down graded houses.

By Shifa Mwihaki

Feature writer/Essayist

This pandemic, I tell you, has seen the pretentious Kenyan middle class becoming Mama Mbogas from the boot of their cars. It is no longer a big deal being a ‘boot-preneur,’ selling waru from the back of the Mercedes, milk in a Prado and sugarcane from the roof of a Passo. Lay-offs and business losses have forced the middle class to downgrade, fast. That includes moving to houses with fewer bedrooms…and bulbs!

But which residential areas, at least around Nairobi, have the middle class been moving to and why?

Well, most have left flats where they could hear jirani cracking eggs on pan to areas where large panties from communal wash lines don’t eclipse the sun.

Patrick Mwongera is a housing agent and the Secretary General of Professional Estate Agents of Kenya.

He singles out areas near the Junction of Riara and Naivasha Roads in Dagoretti Corner, Racecourse, Wilson Airport Estate including Phenom Estate as some of the most affordable, best places for the middle class. Rent ranges between Sh35, 000 to Sh80, 000 for two to three bedroom apartments and Maisonettes.

East of Uhuru highway Mwongera picks out rentals around USIU off the Thika Superhighway including Mirema and Kamakis along the Eastern Bypass.

Mwongera explains that these areas “are close to the main amenities especially entertainment joints. The houses are better planned and managed compared to high end areas like Kilimani or Kileleshwa and thus have value for money in renting.”

Syokimau area attracts mostly new money families but not singles or young couples

Concrete suburbs: Kenya’s middle-class is looking for affordable comfort and fresh air in the outskirts of Nairobi. Like the estate above in Athi River, Machakos County.

Tenants in these areas are mostly “well-paid young executives who need affordable comfort to complement their lavish lifestyles and it’s easier for men to get beautiful young women and vice-versa!”

Daniel Ojijo, CEO of Villa Care, also includes Mombasa Road, but excludes General Mathenge Drive in Westlands where some rentals will dent Sh400, 000 per month, “albeit very high quality” and so only make sense to expatriates. 

Urbanites have also been moving houses out of town to Athi River, Isinya and Juja where besides affordable apartments, the middle-class are also there as “first home owners and Sacco members also have housing schemes there” says Mwongera singling out “Syokimau as being mostly for (new money) families and not singles or young couples.”

Ojijo argues the outskirts are luring for abundance of affordable land in areas like Ngong Road, up to Kiserian, Kikuyu, Kiambu Road and Kangundo Road which “offer relatively decent value for money.”

Once upon a time, tenants looked out for wardrobes and balconies where they could shoot breeze while people watching

Customer is always right: Besides open-plan kitchens, tenants are demanding Wi-Fi, a cooker, oven, micro-wave, pantry, Dstv connection and recently, a fridge.

Besides home owners, tenants also prefer them for the sub-urban lifestyle in spacious houses for half the cost of city apartments.

Besides breathing space, houses there have greenery and foliage with their only downside being the inconvenience of lacking public transport, shopping malls, schools and hospitals.

Once upon a time, tenants looked out for wardrobes and balconies where they could shoot breeze while people watching. That has changed. Open-plan kitchens aside, tenants are demanding Wi-Fi, a cooker, an oven, micro-wave, pantry, Dstv connection and even a fridge. Such tenants are mostly mobile Millennials in the ‘gig economy.’  

“These demands are driven by modernism, exposure to other developed housing economies and expatriates from countries where furnished kitchens are a standard,” says Mwongera. “Developers are also not just selling real estate but a lifestyle and its easier renting or selling such properties.    

Bye bye, landlord: Rent arrears in the face of job losses has seen the middle class move into their unfinished houses in areas like Kamulu along Kangundo Road.

Landlords, however, are not keen on bachelors. “Most are very troublesome including being a threat to young girls in the estate,” says Mwongera adding that the other group are those wearing the tag of “businessman” as most are hustlers in well-pressed mutumba clothes but will default.

But why do Kenyans love moving houses at night?

Multiple players pointed out that most Nairobians avoid embarrassments of being seen by nosy jiranis fitting their worldly belongings in a Pick-Up. But as a matter of life and death, they have a mortal fear of exposing their torn, dirty mattress, sooty sufurias, rickety beds. Most now hire logistic firms. The pandemic has seen most moving early as traditional months of Exodus begin from September to November when some have finished their homes and want to celebrate December festivities with friends, family and not a few enemies.  

But surprisingly Lavington has bedbugs due to the large number of casual workers from Eastlands

Tume hama: The middle class have many unnecessary things including old clothes and outdated items they hardly use.   

Though Kenya’s middle-class aspires for upward mobility to the upper-class, they have stark differences when moving houses: One upper-class bedroom is equivalent to three bedrooms in middle class. The upper classes have high quality, expensive and minimal things with functionality. But the middle class have many unnecessary things including old clothes and outdated items they hardly use.   

Thomas Magacha, the CEO of Imagine Care, a pest control company, says the middle class should also be aware of the pest menace when moving houses. The worst areas include Githurai and Embakasi because of population. But surprisingly Lavington has bedbugs due to the large number of casual workers from Eastlands where public transport is the biggest carrier of bedbugs. “Because of shame, residents of Lavington hide the menace until it gets out of control” says Magacha adding that the middle class needs to be aware of snakes around Kahawa and Kilimani.  

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