President William Ruto has lauded opposition leader Raila Odinga for admitting that the government’s affordable housing project is a noble initiative. The President said that the Azimio leader’s acknowledgement of his affordable housing plan should now bring to an end debate on the housing levy.

The levy has been put on hold by the courts with the government insisting that it will push on with the construction of affordable houses across the country. Ruto said on Sunday that developed countries initiated affordable housing projects to create jobs for their youths as they gave ordinary citizens opportunities to own houses.

“The former prime minister said that affordable housing is a very important thing and that is what I have been saying. What was the bickering about? The argument over this programme must stop now,’’ Ruto said.

Speaking during an interdenominational prayer service at the Approved School in Kakamega County on Sunday, Ruto denied Raila’s claims that affordable housing was not in the Kenya Kwanza manifesto. Raila had on Saturday claimed that Kenya Kwanza stole Azimio’s affordable housing agenda and that the government did not have the item in its campaign document. But Ruto on Sunday said both Kenya Kwanza and Azimio had the affordable housing agenda in their manifestos.

“If Azimio had formed the government, they would have implemented it in their way, but since we (Kenya Kwanza) are the ones in power, we will implement it in our model. Let everyone understand this so that we can move forward with this noble programme that will provide job opportunities for our youth including engineers, carpenters, masons, manufacturers quarry producers, architects, and transporters among others.’’ Ruto said

On Saturday, Raila said there was nothing wrong with affordable housing but faulted the Kenya Kwanza government’s implementation model and its taxation push.

“The government should have first held a major national conference to make Kenyans understand its change of policy on housing and what it is all about before rolling it out,” Raila said

At the same time, Raila said the government’s programme should not be about building similar houses across the country but designing homes based on the various needs of regions and people.

“I brought about affordable housing and slum upgrading programme when I served as minister for housing in the Kibaki government. Affordable housing does not mean that you build same houses all over of one-size-fits-all. You can’t have one design, in other areas you build bungalows, in some areas, residents provide land and labour while the government provides materials to improve their houses.” He said

In some cases, Raila said, the government should allow Kenyans willing to buy houses to pay a deposit for a house instead of imposing taxes across the board. He said the objective was to improve the housing standards of people living in informal settlements without loading heavy taxation or repayment plans on them.

“It was never about telling people to repay; where will they get that money?” Raila said during the wide-ranging interview on Saturday.

Under the affordable housing plan, President Ruto’s administration intends to build 20,000 houses in all 47 counties. Ruto has said the construction of the houses will create over 30,000 jobs in each of the counties.

 By Janet Namalwa