Housing delivery in SA: How have we fared?

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

When Samuel Kubayi arrived in Johannesburg in 1996 from the Eastern Cape, his goal was to find a job in the City of Gold and build a proper home for his family. Struggling to raise enough money to build a house, he ended up renting a backroom at a friend’s house in Protea South, Soweto. This would be his home for more than 15 years.

But Kubayi’s situation changed when he received a letter late in 2011 informing him that he will soon own a house in a 24-000 mixed income housing development, situated west of Dobsonville, Gauteng. By then, he had been on the housing waiting list for 14 years. He is now a proud owner of a two-bedroom house with his own bathroom which has a shower, bath, basin and toilet. He enjoys warm water from the government-sponsored solar geyser installed at his home. Schools, clinics and recreational facilities are all situated less than a kilometre away from his home.  

Kubayi is one of millions of South Africans who have benefitted from 2.68 million houses built by the state since 1994. According to the 20 Year Review, released by the Presidency on Tuesday, approximately 12.5 million individuals have been aided by the state and provided with better quality accommodation and some form of an asset in the past 18 years. Zuma the released the 20 Year Review: South Africa 1994 to 2014 at the Sefako Makgatho Presidential Guest House in Pretoria, on Tuesday.

The document looks at achievements as well as challenges in the South African society as the post-apartheid government battled to normalise an age old system designed to exclude people along racial lines.

The review notes that when the new government came in nearly two decades ago, the housing backlog in South Africa was estimated to be at 1.2 million houses. The 1996 census further showed 1.5 million households lived in informal houses in urban areas. In 1994, authorities also inherited a practice where housing was delivered through a fragmented system of some 14 race and ethnicity-based administrations into separate racial localities.

Opportunities for blacks to purchase and own land were limited. This created a highly distorted property market, with a functioning housing market for a white minority and a series of public rental housing “black ghettoes” for blacks in urban areas.  There was an absence of proper housing in rural areas. Black housing conditions were characterised by overcrowding of existing public housing, limited new affordable housing, high private rentals and deteriorating municipal services. Inevitably, the system left people like Kubayi, who emigrated from rural areas to find jobs in the city, with no other option but to become backyard dwellers. Others found themselves building shacks in growing illegal informal settlements which rapidly spread out on the outskirts of major cities.

In a bid to lessen the burden on the state’s low-cost housing system, also known in township terms as “RDP houses”, the administration of Thabo Mbeki introduced other methods, including the Social Housing Programme (SHP) which has thus far delivered an estimated 30 000 new housing opportunities for many low and moderate income households. Most such developments are found in major economic cities like Johannesburg and Cape Town. An example of an SPH-inspired mixed housing is the Lufhereng housing development which was unveiled in Johannesburg in 2012.

The scheme, like many similar ones across the country has been designed to make housing ownership possible for people like Kubayi, who struggle to get finance from banks due to low income.

Lufhereng was conceived by the City of Johannesburg and the Gauteng department of local government and housing as a large scale, mixed income, mixed type and mixed tenure housing development. It falls under the Mixed Housing Development Programme, designed under the National Housing Strategy's Breaking New Ground policy, which has been endorsed by national government.

Once fully completed, the development is expected to yield 24 000 houses, with schools, clinics, sports fields and recreational amenities making up a sustainable community. According to city officials, the project included a significant component of urban agriculture, through small-scale intensive urban agriculture open-field plots, hydroponic farming units and fish breeding schemes.


Children will be able to attend school starting from primary up to high school at Lufhereng.

“This is home for me. Gone are the days where you will just have a house and then there is no nearby school for children. Everything will be here for them,” says 44-year-old Kubayi. His neighbour 68-year-old pensioner Elijah Bulana grows vegetables on his garden and every Monday walks to a nearby clinic to collect his medication for high-blood pressure. Bulana says he enjoys living in a place where he is surrounded by everything he needs.

Studies show that the quality of RDP houses has greatly improved over the past 10 years as the department of human settlements shifted its focus from quantity to quality. The shift from housing to pay more emphasis to human settlements is said to be promoting a symbol of a family home, a place of belonging, and with it the comfort of knowing that one is a full citizen.

Authorities say a shift from a narrow and simplistic one size fits all housing focus (the RDP prototype house) to a more flexible and pragmatic approach of a set of subsidy instruments (some 17 new subsidy programmes) allowed for improved responsiveness to different urban and rural regional conditions. The result of this flexible use of subsidies, like those to address the upgrading of informal settlements, created new ways in which the  ordinary citizens could negotiate access to housing opportunities with the government authorities.

“This reflects growing sophistication about housing entitlements and better settlement making, reflected and endorsed by the majority of rulings by the Constitutional Court on socio-economic rights”.

The 20 Year Review says a key lesson of the period in review is that the progressive public investment into housing for the very poor, has enabled a wave of private investment in housing, both by beneficiary and other households, as well as the private finance sector. This has dramatically improved the quality of  human settlements.

The delivery of 5 677 614 formal houses by government and the private sector resulted in a shift in the number of people living in formal housing from 64% in 1996 to 77.7% in 2011, a growth of 50% for the period. The formal housing market has trebled in value over the last 20 years reaching a collective value of some R3 trillion. Government says the achievements made on housing since 1994 has been significant in that an estimated value of the property market based on state housing investment is approximately R300 billion.

However, going forward, improving human settlements will require a review of the subsidy regime with greater consideration about how the subsidy instruments could be designed to better address socio- spatial justice and fairness for poorer people.

“The current inequitable distribution of growth and value of properties, coupled with an inherited apartheid distortion of the market and limits on affordability of credit, still exclude the poor from the benefits of the workings of the economy in particular to the property market.

“There needs to be better integration of planning, housing, human settlements development and public transport to ensure greater urban efficiency and allow for more competitive opportunities and investment, with particular consideration of the growth of the overall property market and its contribution to municipal revenues,” says the 20 Year Review.

The document also recommends that the state capability needs to be increased to support co-production modes of housing delivery and settlement making between ordinary citizens, community organisations, cooperatives, the private construction sector and the banks. – SAnews.gov.za




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