Dire need for housing is South Africa’s biggest challenge

We are on track to exceed our targets for the delivery of houses in Cape Town for the current financial year

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Photo of Brett Herron
Cape Town Mayco Member Brett Herron responds to criticism about the City’s housing programme. Archive photo: Ashraf Hendricks

At 5am on Tuesday morning, a group of concerned residents from Reclaim the City came to my house for a surprise breakfast meeting. I sat down with them at the table that was set up on the pavement, and we shared koesisters while they posed questions about housing issues.

Being a public representative that is passionate about serving the people of Cape Town, I am always willing to engage and to account. The unannounced breakfast meeting was very fruitful and as far as I am concerned we engaged in good spirit.

I am fully aware that all of the fears and frustrations that were expressed to me by the residents on Tuesday morning were not and could not be fully addressed. I expressed my solidarity with their reservations and concerns about what sites are currently available for emergency housing. As much as I am sympathetic to their plight, I cannot deny the reality that it will take time to address this by adding additional housing opportunities that are geographically better located to assist residents in emergencies.

The dire need for housing and security of tenure are, in my opinion, the biggest challenges that South Africa is facing at this moment. The desperation of those in need resonates in illegal land invasions, evictions, violent protests, and discord between communities.

The irony is that while we rely on, and are constrained by the National Government’s policy decisions and funding, those who make these decisions are often far removed from the coalface of service delivery and the harsh realities of poverty and displacement.

Local governments bear the brunt of the pressure as more people are moving to cities in search of better lives and job opportunities. Cape Town is no exception.

As I am writing this piece we have 343,537 residents registered on our database who are in need of and qualify for a housing opportunity. The stark reality is that even if we do succeed in providing 15,000 new housing opportunities per year, those who are currently on the housing database may have to wait up to 23 years for their turn.

In fact, we estimate that at least 650,000 families will qualify for and require some form of state-subsidised housing, in Cape Town, over the next 20 years.

This is a massive challenge and one that will not be resolved overnight. Neither will it be resolved by government alone – we need civil society, the private sector, and our residents to work with us – or we may just as well give up now.

Furthermore, to oversimplify this very complex issue as some are inclined to do, or to use it as an emotive tool for short-term gain, will benefit nobody in the long-term – least of all those who are without decent housing and security of tenure.

Poor and working class residents are evicted and displaced all over the city, not in Cape Town’s inner-city alone.

Those on the City’s housing database are from areas all over Cape Town – they are patiently awaiting their turn for a house in Khayelitsha, Philippi, Gugulethu, Nomzamo, Langa, Ottery, Hangberg, Bonteheuwel, Belhar, Macassar, Imizamo Yethu, Masiphumelele – the list goes on and on. Some of these beneficiaries are 60 years and older, others have dependents with special needs.

By way of example, the City’s longest awaiting beneficiary is an 82-year-old woman from Bonteheuwel who has been on the City’s housing database since 1971. We have offered her a place in an old age home and a housing opportunity elsewhere in Cape Town, but she declined these opportunities as she wants to live in her own house in Bonteheuwel. The point I am trying to make is that this beneficiary is willing to wait for a housing opportunity of her choice – she has been waiting for 47 years. She has not been demanding special treatment, or pleading special circumstances.

Maxine Bezuidenhout creates the impression that those residents who are displaced or evicted from houses in the inner-city deserve special treatment, or that their circumstances are extraordinary, as opposed to those residents who are facing the same fate in other parts of Cape Town.

The purpose of the City’s housing database is to ensure that housing opportunities are made available in a fair, transparent, systematic, and equitable manner, and in accordance with our housing allocation policy to ensure that no one jumps the queue. We cannot allow a situation where certain residents get access to housing opportunities at the cost of those who have been waiting for years for the very same housing opportunity. If we allow this, we will go down a road where the consequences are too ghastly to contemplate.

All of us must respect the City’s housing database and housing allocation policy, and acknowledge its role as the foundation of a fair and equitable housing allocation regime

In the meantime, we are working as hard and as fast as we can within the regulatory constraints, and we are doing the most with the funds that we are receiving from the National Government.

I want to point out that while urbanisation and demand for housing is rising, and construction costs have been increasing, the housing subsidy from the National Government has not kept up with the pace.

What we are seeing nationally is a diminishing number of housing opportunities being delivered year-on-year.

Also, household incomes have risen, as has the cost of living and cost of housing, but the income bands to qualify for assistance have remained static, meaning that many families who are indigent or in need of assistance do not qualify in terms of nationally prescribed household income bands. This is an unintended cruel outcome of a rigid housing programme and serves to exacerbate the housing crisis. Fortunately, the previous minister of housing published amended household income bands for social housing recently. This will partially address the problem of household income thresholds and we are looking forward to seeing this being implemented sooner rather than later.

It is also important to add that Cape Town is facing drivers of urban change which have shifted profoundly since 2012.

There is a rapid increase in the number of new households – although the population has increased 7% between 2011 and 2016, the number of households has increased by 18%. This affects the number and type of housing opportunities to be delivered.

Faced by fiscal constraints and a tepid global and local economy, we must do more with less – meaning, we have to improve our spatial form to ensure resource efficiency and sustainability.

Furthermore, cities are increasingly under pressure from climate change. The current drought is a clear indication that we cannot continue with a business-as-usual approach where Cape Town continues to sprawl with the poor living on the margins.

In 2016 the City administration was restructured, and several directorates were realigned to streamline and expedite service delivery. The functions of urban planning, new government housing, and transport were united under what is now called the Transport and Urban Development Authority (TDA). I am the political head of the TDA and I am extremely proud to say we are on track to exceed our targets for the delivery of houses in Cape Town for the current financial year.

This is the first time since democracy that our officials are aware of such an achievement.

I want to reiterate that everything that we at the Transport and Urban Development Authority are doing, is geared towards reversing the legacy of apartheid spatial planning and the transformation of Cape Town’s spatial form; to promote transport-oriented development; and to provide affordable and inclusionary housing on well-located land close to public transport and job opportunities.

We are striving to build integrated communities with different types of residential developments based on a mix of income groups. Going hand-in-hand with this vision is the imperative to sustain employment generating economic growth and to reduce accessibility costs for the urban lower-income households.

The Transport and Urban Development Authority’s Department for Urban Integration is tasked with identifying land for housing projects and the evaluation of land for future housing projects. This is being done on a continuous basis.

We are assessing City-owned land to determine whether some of these properties could be developed for housing opportunities – be it for transitional-, affordable-, or social housing, or state-subsidised Breaking New Ground (BNG) housing. Not only are we identifying suitable land, but also buildings within CBDs across Cape Town that can be developed or converted into affordable rental accommodation.

The development and availability of affordable rental accommodation in central areas of the city must play a key role in the future development of Cape Town. Providing affordable housing opportunities closer to where people work or close to public transport is non-negotiable. In this way, we will create a more integrated and inclusive city where residents have access to opportunities.

On this point I want to mention that the Pickwick Transitional Housing Project in Salt River is intended to accommodate those residents who are currently residing on City-owned sites that will be developed for affordable and social housing. This will unlock sites that can together provide thousands of housing opportunities, but the transitional housing is not yet ready and even when it is, space will be very limited and will be offered only for a short (transitional) period of time. Those living in the facility will sign lease agreements and pay monthly rent based on what they can afford. The City will subsidise the operational costs through its Rental Indigent Scheme applicable to Council tenants.

We want to, in the long-term, develop more transitional housing sites across the city so that we can assist those residents who are facing emergency situations with temporary accommodation while they are looking for permanent housing.

Until these developments have been realised, we have to make do with what we have.

Wolwerivier is a temporary relocation area for those who need emergency housing. The City assists residents who are evicted, or rendered homeless, and who do not have the financial or other means to secure housing for themselves with emergency housing. To date we have provided residents with emergency housing at Wolwerivier and at Blikkiesdorp.

These areas are far from ideal. Unfortunately, these remain the only temporary relocation areas available at this stage, as we are working towards the longer-term goal of creating other transitional housing sites across Cape Town, in conjunction with the development of affordable and inclusionary housing opportunities closer to public transport and jobs, and within CBDs across Cape Town.

Herron is the Mayoral Committee Member for Transport and Urban Development, City of Cape Town.

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TOPICS:  Housing

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