This programme is working to enable the 270 households of Kambi Moto informal settlement to gain security of tenure and to design and construct their own homes, whilst simultaneously developing their skills in procurement and project management procedures. The aim is that these tasks can be adopted by community members, minimising future long-term reliance on professional input. Through negotiation with the city council the land was transferred to the community as a whole, with each and every household receiving sectional title for an equal plot. A collaborative design process using life-size demonstration models settled on a design organised over three floors that could be built incrementally over time and is connected to water, sanitation and electricity services.


Project Description

Aims and Objectives

  • To give the 270 households of the Kambi Moto informal settlement the opportunity to build their own house, gain access to secure land tenure and develop local skills in a way that is of benefit to the community.
  • To improve the skills of local architects, planners and builders and encourage them to work amongst the urban poor in their own cities, rather than moving to work in the global North.
  • To develop and test locally-generated planning solutions for the urban poor.
  • To develop a model for other communities in similar contexts to learn from.
  • To preserve and enhance the existing, historically-grown, urban social network of a specific community.

Programme context

Nairobi is the capital city of Kenya and the main urban hub for the East Africa Region. It has a population of between three and four million and 60 per cent of its inhabitants live in informal settlements. In Kenya, the professional services of architects and engineers are mostly only affordable for government, corporate or affluent private clients and the majority of the population receives inadequate or non-existent technical support. Although the urban poor show impressive improvisation skills and innovation to better their housing situation, there is a need for value that can be added by the technical and design professions.

Huruma is one of the many Nairobi neighbourhoods with informal housing communities. Kambi Moto is one of the five informal communities in Huruma and is made up of approximately 270 households. It was established on open land, originally intended as a car-parking area for the adjacent formally-built low-cost houses. Kambi Moto means ‘place of fire’ and is so called because the high density of housing structures made from wood and scrap materials have burned down on several occasions. The households have remained in this overcrowded location due to its proximity to the city’s infrastructure and livelihood opportunities. Typically for this kind of informal housing situation, the inhabitants include so-called structure owners, who act as landlords for up to 30 shacks and receive their income from tenants who often have to pay exorbitant rents for their (inadequate) shelter.

Key features

The Technical Team, working in conjunction with local NGO the Pamoja Trust, Nairobi City Planning Department and both universities in the city, engaged with the residents of Kambi Moto. Following an initial enumeration exercise and the formation of local savings group Mungano in 2000, the Technical Team negotiated a special planning dispensation with the city council that would see all 270 households living in Kambi Moto able to stay on the land, and to receive the land title.

The Technical Team is an informal network of professionals (architects, planners and surveyors) working alongside communities of the urban poor to enable them to build their own homes and gain security of land tenure community on sound procurement procedures and management of the projects, these tasks can be adopted by community members, minimising future long-term reliance on professional input. whilst simultaneously developing and supporting the technical skills of local people. By training the community on sound procurement procedures and management of the projects, these tasks can be adopted by community members, minimising future long-term reliance on professional input.

Initial disputes between the structure owners living in the community and their tenants were resolved through many meetings and the momentum that was generated within the community moving towards formal land title for all. The plot was transferred to the community as a whole, and each household receives a sectional title, meaning that if a family wishes to sell up then their title is sold back to the community. The whole area was divided equally between the number of households and due to the density of the settlement each received land with an area of 20.25m2.

Following collaboration with the community for over a year, the Technical Team developed a number of designs that were showcased using a life-size cloth and wood model. Upon seeing what could be achieved despite the limited footprint, the community opted for a single design organised over three floors that could be built incrementally over time and is connected to sewerage, water and electricity. Essential to this process was the Technical Team’s adaptation of the planning regulations to prioritise the pedestrian nature of the settlement and maximise the land available, whilst enabling emergency vehicle access. The upgrading has been carried out incrementally and in-situ so that the households did not have to move out of the community. During each construction phase between 20 and 30 homes are built. Therefore only a small number of the community are affected and can be accommodated by their fellow community members.

To date, 70 households have completed their new homes, providing the labour themselves and utilising locally available building materials purchased with loans given by their savings group Mungano. Each home can be built within six weeks but the process has taken much longer due to initial problems with loan repayment, and further loans have since been made conditional on repayment performance. A culture of prompt repayment has now developed. The process has seen the local members of the Technical Team (architect, planners and project managers) work with the community to develop practical solutions to any problems that have arisen.

Covering costs

The premise of the programme relies on enabling and facilitating the local community to carry out its own upgrading. Therefore external funds are used only to provide the professional support (through the Technical Team) and for community learning exchanges (through the Pamoja Trust and Slum/Shack Dwellers International (SDI)). Homeless International have funded the work of the Technical Team and provided grants to the Pamoja Trust.

The Kambi Moto project has been structured in such a way that from the outset, no subsidy or external resources were needed for the actual construction costs. All construction-related costs are met by the households themselves:

  • Ten per cent of the construction cost is a down-payment from the individual family, typically covered by savings, paid into the community savings scheme during the preparation stage.
  • 90 per cent of the construction cost is given as a loan by Mungano (financed by the Pamoja Trust) to each of the households, repayable over between five and seven years with an interest rate negotiated by the community of half of one per cent per month (six per cent per year).
  • Each household contributes approximately 80 hours of labour.

When the project began a completed three-storey house cost approximately US$2,000. Due to the rise in the cost of materials, the cost of building a home had almost doubled by 2008. However, credit is increasingly accessible due to the possession of formal land title and the livelihood development aspect of the programme has resulted in increased income opportunities in construction work and through community members starting their own businesses. Work is ongoing to develop alternative materials less prone to fluctuating costs.


  • The quality of life has been greatly improved for the community – not only are they gaining secure and adequate housing having lived informally, they have been empowered to own and manage the whole process, developing skills and increasing capacity as they go. The formal title has enabled access to credit which was previously unavailable.
  • Seventy of the 270 households have constructed homes of one storey or more, and despite the time taken and the challenges faced, the community have embraced a long-term approach and the process is ongoing.
  • Other informal settlement upgrade schemes across Nairobi (for example, Gitathuru and Mahira in Huruma district) have learnt from the Kambi Moto process, both from a design and process perspective. Nairobi City Council has seen how this process can work effectively.
  • The local professionals and semi-professionals involved in this and other projects received training and motivation to work locally, enhanced their skills by providing better service to the community-built housing process.


Why is it innovative?

  • The innovative urban layout that combines the pedestrian nature of the settlement with access for emergency vehicles has enabled all the 270 households to stay on site. The house design that has an extremely small footprint and allows for incremental construction has increased affordability.
  • The phased construction process (20 to 30 houses built at one time) has reduced disruption when homes are demolished for reconstruction, being at a scale where the community can manage the whole process but also benefit from bulk buying of materials, and has also enabled learning to be passed from one phase to the next.
  • The choice of locally available stone and components fabricated on site has reduced the need for expensive, energy-intensive materials (for example cement and steel) and has involved training community members to produce materials, providing skills and an income.
  • The partnerships between the local community, community based organisation (Mungano savings group), local non-governmental organisation (the Pamoja Trust), the Technical Team and Nairobi City Council enabled the successful completion of the initial enumeration process with the result that all residents could be accommodated regardless of their informal tenure status as structure owner or tenant. These partnerships have led to community ownership and involvement in the whole process, the relaxing of planning and building regulations and a desired outcome for all parties.
  • By recruiting and developing local architects, planners and project managers, the Technical Team approach has not only drawn on local expertise but also opened up these professionals to new perspectives in which to apply their skills.


What is the environmental impact?

Locally available lava stone blocks were used as building materials for the new homes, rather than cement blocks. For the floor slabs and roof terraces, the Laady building method, a pre-fabricated concrete mini floor slab that uses a fraction of steel and cement compared to conventional concrete, was chosen. This method was developed by women from the SDI partners in Mumbai and transferred through an exchange visit that demonstrated the technique to the residents of Kambi Moto. The use of these materials and a process reliant on human rather than mechanical labour significantly reduces the amount of non-renewable energy required for the construction of the new homes and infrastructure.

The informal structure footprints often indicate the most suitable positioning of the structures in term of topography and weather. The planning of the settlement took this into account, assuming the local knowledge of the site and conditions when considering natural storm-water run-off, path and road access.


Is it financially sustainable?

The programme aims to build the capacity of the local communities such that they themselves carry out the upgrading work alongside skilled labourers hired with the funds generated by the community-based savings groups combined with loans from a local NGO. External funding is therefore only necessary to support the work of the Technical Team. In order to reduce the labour costs, the households themselves provide unskilled labour. The labour contributions are organised and based on a rotating system, whereby residents work in construction teams on a particular group of houses, built in phases of between 20 and 30 houses. Some community members gain additional income from those members with external employment who prefer to pay for unskilled labour.

The programme emphasises livelihood aspects as a vital part of community upgrading. Due to the improved skills, the community members are now applying and qualifying for formal construction work outside the settlement. A catering group has been formed and is developing its business. There are plans to develop and incorporate small scale formal businesses in the improved houses, something which was not possible with the previous housing conditions.


What is the social impact?

The community has come together, developed skills and worked closely on all aspects of the process – design, planning, saving, construction, project management and sharing their experience through exchanges with other communities organised through the Pamoja Trust and SDI. Throughout the community saving programme and the planning and building programme, the individuals in the community have been made more aware of their housing rights. They have become better leaders who can articulate their needs clearly before the authorities, for example they have negotiated with the city council for the approval of their house plans and designs.

The new houses are much safer. They are less prone to fire, offer security both physically and emotionally, and the inclusion of a toilet greatly reduces risks to health associated with poor sanitation. Gaining formal security of tenure through a land title is a significant achievement within the community. This project has ensured that the resident community can enjoy similar housing standards as the other city residents. Through the upgrading process households are formally connected to water, sewerage and electricity utilities and the road network. Those households who have not met the minimum requirements to access loans (regularity of savings) still receive the 20-25m2 plot and have been able to negotiate loan repayment over a longer term.


  • Initial resistance came from those residents who also owned a number of structures (up to 20 in some cases) and whose lucrative rental income would disappear if the ‘all are equal’ approach, giving formal title to all residents, was adopted. A lengthy communication and discussion process, where the Pamoja Trust played a key role, meant that this obstacle was overcome – the benefits of formal title and the momentum of the community winning out. This is an ongoing issue, but the community are resisting the wishes of some residents to acquire more property from which to make an income.
  • There were initial problems with the repayment of loans. With a new house structure and formal land title some households desired more growth and neglected to service their existing loans. This has been addressed by Mungano with new loans for the second and third phases of the incremental building process conditional on the repayment of the initial loans. This has affected the speed with which the houses are built but a culture of repayment is emerging that is essential for the long-term sustainability of the project.

Lessons Learned

  • The community members of Kambi Moto and the City Council have recognised that by cooperating with each other, and with others (including architects, planners and the Pamoja Trust), much can be achieved that would not be possible in an externally-controlled development. If each actor does what he/she does best and leaves room for others to act where they have more knowledge and experience, then the results are good for all. This applied to the community and the professionals.
  • Although the community had limited resources and knowledge, in developing what they had by working with technical professionals and the social facilitators from the Pamoja Trust, they were able to design and construct houses that were appropriate for their specific situation and had real market value.
  • The local architects and planners who made up the Technical Team saw the impact that they could have working with a community, and learned many new skills in the process.
  • The ongoing community-led process of negotiation on every issue from the design through to the conditions for loan repayment has served as a real and positive example for other communities and technical professionals in Huruma and across Nairobi.



Having faced the results of their building efforts on a daily and practical level, the women community members have been best placed and free to speak out on what can be improved in the next building phase. Regular evaluation is also carried out by the Pamoja Trust and their funding organisations, including Homeless International. The Architecture Departments of the two Nairobi-based universities play an important evaluation role be it through the teaching staff or the students. Classes use Kambi Moto as a reference point in their design studio work and in their theoretical studies.



The community of Kambi Moto is and will be assisting other urban poor communities in Nairobi and other towns in their struggle to enhance and secure their housing situation. Currently comprising two architects, two planners, three project managers, and with three more graduates due to join in 2009, the Technical Team is working with five communities in the Huruma district of Nairobi, one of which is Kambi Moto, as well as ten other projects across the city.

Knowledge transfer exchanges have taken place between professionals and between communities in Nairobi. Community members from Kambi Moto have supported other community building teams in Uganda and South Africa, and have shared their experiences in Asia through SDI exchanges.