Some 20 years ago, Lolwe in Kisumu was a vast grazing field favoured by herdsmen from all around the lakeside city.
Wycliffe Odera, 34, lived in Manyatta until 2019, when he moved to Nyalenda after getting married.
He has watched the grasslands of Lolwe turn into urban settlements, dotted by apartment and business buildings abuzz with human activity.
“Lolwe was our grazing field, as well as the famous Carwash football grounds, now a commercial centre full of container stalls,” he says.
Lolwe represents the immense transformation that Kisumu has undergone the past two decades, with new estates coming up and registering fast growth.
Anyone who left Kisumu in 2000 will undoubtedly struggle to recognise the lakeside city estates.
Lolwe, Polyview, Winam Square, Ruby Courts and High Rise, located near the Kenya Breweries plant, are among many residential areas that have emerged over the past 20 years.
Immense growth has been seen on the outskirts of the city, with many estates sprouting in the rocky suburbs of Riat, Kibos, Nyamasaria, the Airport area and Obambo.
Some of the new entrants are threatening to outshine some of Kisumu’s revered residential areas, such as Kenya Re, Robert Ouko, Okore, Mosque, Tom Mboya, Mountain View and even Milimani.
Others facing stiff competition from upcoming estates include Translake, National Housing, Ogango, Elgon, Highrise, Ruby Courts, Grace Ogot, Barack Obama, Makuti area on the Kisumu-Kakamega Road, and Winam Square Estates. Some of these estates are slowly losing their prestige.
Victoria Gardens in Riat and Obambo are among upcoming residential areas that are likely to be the new frontiers for those seeking elegant abodes away from the city.
Polyview was once known as the Makasembo graveyard (‘Makaburini’) and no one would think of residing there. Now it is teeming with flats of different kinds.
“Developers who dared to construct in the area would dig up bones, which was scary. But it is now a thing of the past, with many people building new units in the once feared locations,” Mr Odera says.
Rent for a two-bedroomed house here ranges between Sh16,000 and Sh30,000, depending on the design.
The rates at Highrise are within the same range but slightly higher by Sh5,000 to Sh7,000.
Mr Odera recalls that when he was growing up, the area around Nyamasaria was generally swampy with villages of old, mud-walled and grass-thatched houses.
The area is now full of beautiful flats occupied by the city’s middle-class workers.
“Just the mention of moving to Nyamasaria back then would attract ridicule. People would say someone was going to the village,” he says.
“But now it has become one of the most sought-after areas not only by residents but businessmen setting up entertainment joints such as Club Black Pearl.”
Middle class renters
Two-bedroom apartments in these areas used to rent for Sh4,500, but now, with the new estates that have replaced or grown around them, renters pay between Sh15,000 and Sh20, 000 for similar units.
Lolwe, for instance, is occupied by mostly middle-class renters in their 20s and 30s who pay between Sh15,000 and Sh25,000 per month. This has encouraged developers to bring up more units in these areas.
The growth has been buoyed by the transformation brought about by the Kenya Informal Settlements Project, a five-year government development project with support from the World Bank being implemented in selected urban areas.
Improved roads, such as the Sijeh-Koyango-Carwash road opened up and transformed the once unplanned slum area into one with modern residential houses that stretch towards Nyamasaria and Auji.
Ms Nishma Karia, director of Lake Estate Agency Ltd, feels the growth of Kisumu estates has been fuelled by the ongoing development projects in city, such as the newly refurbished Kisumu port, the rehabilitated Nakuru-Kisumu railway line, the lakefront and various major roads, which have drawn the attention of investors.
She adds that many non-governmental organisations are setting up offices in Kisumu, viewed as a hub for East Africa, a factor that has increased demand for housing.
“There is growing demand for housing, especially by the middle class, following the development being witnessed in Kisumu, thus the growing number of estates whose rent ranges between Sh15,000 and Sh30,000 for a two bed-room house,” she says.
Mr Derrick Nzaywa Samambo, a real estate expert, says housing development is a capital-intensive and multifaceted industry where land is a key determinant of the value of the project.
He says most landowners are caught between not wanting to sell and lack of capacity to develop the prime parcels.
“Development financing spearheaded by local lenders made it easier for landlords to acquire plots within a 10km radius of the city centre and develop rental apartments,” says Mr Samambo, managing partner at Samambo Housing.
He says Manyatta, Kisumu's biggest estate in population, was outgrown. It is mainly occupied by traditional owners who have established homesteads, making it difficult for joint venture developments.
As a result, Polyview, Lolwe and Highrise, among others, provided the much needed space to develop modern apartments for the rising middle class.
“Kisumu is the de facto capital of the Western Kenya region, a factor that will influence its cosmopolitan outlook,” he says.
He points out that being just two hours away from other major Western Kenya towns makes it comfortable for investors from the other counties to invest in it.
“With population growth comes a rise in demand for land and residential development as many people look for places to settle. Consequently, an increase in demand leads to a jump in land/house prices,” Mr Samambo says.
“When living in certain areas is found desirable, the demand for real estate in those areas also rises and consequently the land prices. This perhaps explains the rise in land prices in Mamboleo, Otonglo.”
The high population around the estates has also led to the growth of businesses established by tenants who understand the basic needs of their fellow residents and provide them at their doorstep.
Lolwe’s growth is expected to get a boost with a new Ring Road being built around the estate to improve access.
The recent move to elevate some urban centres to towns by Governor Anyang’ Nyong’o has created a whole new dimension in housing in Kisumu.
The towns are Maseno in Kisumu West sub-county, Ahero in Nyando, Katito in Nyakach, Muhoroni in Muhoroni, and Kombewa in Seme.
With fares of between Sh100 and Sh150e from these areas to Kisumu city, some people have houses in these satellite towns and comfortably commute to work.
However, the rapid growth has attracted some challenges such as insecurity, lack of proper planning of the estates, which affects access, and sanitation and waste management headaches.