Category Archives: Bobby Jordan

The Times: Scandal of the low-cost housing settlements

Scandal of the low-cost housing settlements
Overcrowding leads to pollution and disease
Mar 26, 2011 11:42 PM | By BOBBY JORDAN

She is one of millions of South Africans who must use polluted water because of overcrowding.

These conditions are turning government’s low-cost housing settlements into death-traps, according to shock findings in a study by the University of Stellenbosch.

The research reveals that overcrowding in state-subsidised housing projects is leading to water pollution and serious health risks to residents.

The findings conclude that the government’s housing policy may be doing more harm than good by placing too many people in too small a space.

The research report, published in international journal Habitat, says the problem stems from the unregulated growth of “back-yard shacks” which home owners erect to earn rent. The number of “back-yarders” has effectively doubled the population inside housing developments and the plumbing cannot cope.

Researchers analysed the water quality at four low-cost housing developments in and around Cape Town – Driftsand, Greenfields, Masiphumelele and Tafelsig.

The report highlighted a worrying build-up of human waste clogging up toilets and storm-water drains. Some of the more shocking findings include:

Only two state-subsidised homes did not have a back-yard dwelling (shack) attached on the property;

Less than half the toilets are still working;

Drains were dirty, with sewage-laden water spilling over in 92% of the houses;

40% of main households reported one or more cases of diarrhoea in the two weeks preceding the survey;

48% of households reported at least two structural problems with their houses such as cracks or water leaks; and,

99% said they were unable to afford repairs.

Ironically, residents inside the house are more at risk than tenants living outside as the inside tap area was most infected with harmful bacteria.

Researcher Jo Barnes said the results showed the state must urgently reconsider its housing guidelines.

“The government has inherited a very large problem, but, just plonking boxes on the ground and stuffing people into them is not the answer. We are causing massive water pollution,” Barnes said.

Barnes said government had “tied themselves in a knot” by failing to act against back-yard shacks as the state is obliged to find alternative accommodation for back-yard dwellers before evicting them.

She said research showed many homeowners did not understand basic hygiene or plumbing principles and did not have the means to repair blocked or broken drains. “According to them (the new home-owners), that toilet lever is like a delete button – it takes things away. Those who have toilets are using them to flush away dirty water with peels and things from the kitchen.”

Cape Town metropolitan council spokesman Kylie Hatton said housing development was restricted by budget and national housing guidelines.

Human Settlements director general Thabane Zulu said while municipalities were ultimately responsible for enforcing regulations relating to building standards and conditions, homeowners also needed to take responsibility for maintaining their homes. Zulu said: “It is not just water infrastructure, but the department is concerned with general maintenance of the homes. On Wednesday at a handover of a new social housing project in Cape Town one of the things the Minister emphasised was the responsibility the home owners have to their property, especially with regards to maintenance.”

The Times: Gateway housing project in a shambles

Gateway housing project in a shambles

Bobby Jordan Published:Nov 23, 2008

Only five families out of an estimated 20000 shack dwellers from one of South Africa’s poorest settlements have been accommodated at the state’s flagship housing development built on their doorstep.

Meant to showcase the country’s progressive housing policy promoting racially integrated cities, phase one of the N2 Gateway project next to the Joe Slovo shack settlement in Cape Town is instead a monument to a losing battle against the national housing backlog.

More than 1000 families from Joe Slovo have been relocated to make way for the housing project, which to date consists of only 704 state rental apartments costing R600 to R1050 a month and about 3500 free houses 10km away in Delft on the outskirts of the city. This despite the government’s promise of 20000 free state Gateway houses by 2006.

The relocated shack dwellers now live in the new Delft houses or in under-serviced “temporary relocation areas”.

The remaining shack dwellers — about 3000 families — are challenging a High Court ruling ordering them to move to Delft so more free houses can be built where their shacks stand.

Construction of “bond market” houses has already begun for people earning between R3500 to R10000 a month next to Joe Slovo settlement.

Shack dwellers say they are being forced off their land without any guarantee of getting a new house.

“What we’re seeing at Gateway is more people falling out of the plan than into it,” said Steve Kahanovitz from the Legal Resources Centre. “Our information in the court case is that less than five (applicants) from Joe Slovo have benefited.”

“We are excluded,” Mzwanele Zulu, chairman of the Joe Slovo Residents Committee, said. “People living in informal settlements cannot afford those houses.

But the national government insists that all shack dwellers on the housing list will be accommodated either in the third phase of subsidised N2 Gateway houses or at an alternative site.

It concedes there are major challenges for housing delivery.

Housing Ministry spokesman Marianne Merten said: “Regardless of the challenges, government remains on track to eradicate informal settlements by 2014 as undertaken in terms of the UN Millennium Development Goals. Shacks and informal settlements are no places to live in dignity, to raise families, where people have access to services like ambulances and the postman.”

But academics and development experts say the Gateway fiasco exposes a flawed housing delivery strategy.

“What we are doing is perpetuating the urban planning of the apartheid period,” said Professor Sampie Terreblanche of the University of Stellenbosch’s economics department.

The housing backlog in the Western Cape is growing by 12 000 to 18 000 a year – far more than the annual number of new state houses in that province

· Between 1996 and 2001 the number of shacks in Johannesburg increased by 36,451. Today, there are 209,381

· Despite lip service to the principle of creating integrated cities, inner-city evictions continue in Cape Town, Durban and Pretoria.

· Despite a countrywide roll-out of essential services such as water and electricity to poor areas, major metropolitan councils have begun cutting off services to shack settlements. Joburg and Durban are all embroiled in court cases stemming from cut-offs

· KZN has even passed its own slum-clearance law – which is being challenged in court

· Major housing developments like N2 Gateway are poorly managed and beset with dodgy building contractors. Thubelisha Homes, the state-appointed ‘housing support institution’ that appoints building contractors and collects rental at the Gateway apartments, has been a dismal failure, and received a tongue lashing from the Portfolio Committee on Housing

Meanwhile most of the 704 beneficiaries of the Gateway rental apartments have been served summons for refusing to pay rent. But they say the buildings are defective.The residents claim they will boycott payment until government fixes the cracks in their walls and floors

· Among the 5 000 families living in temporary Gateway accommodation waiting for accommodation, there are 1000 people who do not qualify for free state housing

Notwithstanding the many problems there was also praise this week for the national housing roll out. Since 1994 the government has built over 2.6 Million houses, providing shelter to about 10 million poor people. — the biggest housing roll-out of its kind worldwide and comparable only with social housing programmes in China and Singapore. Commentators said the problem was not with government’s impressive human rights policy – dubbed Breaking New Ground – but with implementation. They said provincial and local governments were perverting the original spirit of the Housing Act, which was partly pioneered by the late Joe Slovo, Ironically the residents of Joe Slovo shack settlement are now in court fighting to save their roofs.

“What you’re doing effectively is keeping poor out of the city –that’s very, very serious because this goes back to apartheid influx control,” said Professor Marie Huchzermeyer from Wits University. “If go back to the 1997 Housing Act it doesn’t talk about eradicating informal settlements. It talks about making land available to people so that they don’t have to invade land. It doesn’t talk about any forceful measures.”

One of SA’s top human-rights lawyers, Advocate Geoff Budlender, said: “Too many people in local, provincial and national government think that shacks are a problem and the solution is to demolish them, but one has to see shacks in a different light. They are a symptom of other problems –they are not themselves the problem.”

Housing Minister Lindiwe Sisulu has pleaded for a once-off R12 billion injection to help speed up housing delivery.

The Times: Housing runs out of land

Housing delivery has ground to a halt in certain parts of South Africa — all because of a bitter tug-of-war over municipal land.

Despite a massive housing backlog of more than two million units, municipalities are holding on to millions of hectares of prime commonage land — which is supposed to be used to assist local residents — or have already sold it to private developers despite a countrywide moratorium on such land sales, Housing Minister Lindiwe Sisulu has told Business Times in an exclusive interview.

Sisulu said that t ens of thousands of hectares suitable for affordable housing may have been lost this way, a problem caused largely by a combination of soaring land values and dwindling council revenues. And in many cases the municipalities are selling the land under dubious circumstances.

Huge tracts of land in rural municipalities are also lying idle due to unresolved land claims, she said.

The situation has prompted urgent talks between the departments of housing, land affairs, public works and the Treasury, with several key legislative changes in the pipeline to stop the municipal land grab — and to bring maverick officials into line. “Somehow the state has tied itself up into so many binds that it is unable to move with the speed with which it should move,” Sisulu said.

Commonage land was granted to municipalities decades ago free of charge subject to stringent title-deed conditions for use for local residents.

In a frank appraisal of national housing delivery, Sisulu listed several other major obstacles which include:

# There is still no complete public land asset register, which means the three spheres of government do not know how much land they have and may be available for housing or land reform;

# Housing costs have rocketed due to the high price of cement and steel caused by the ongoing construction of the country’s 2010 World Cup soccer stadiums;

# Massive areas of municipal commonage in Limpopo are tied up in land claims now before the Land Claims Commission; and

# Parastatals such as Transnet are sitting on vast tracts of land that cannot be transferred to the housing department because of legal complications.

The Minister’s comments coincide with this week’s tabling in Parliament of the Housing Development Agency Bill, which paves the way for a government housing body to buy, sell, hold and expropriate land for housing development. The agency would, in conjunction with the provinces, also monitor municipalities and sanction those selling land to the private sector without the housing minister’s permission, Sisulu said.

She said this had become necessary due to the failure of a 2005 voluntary moratorium on the sale of municipal land: “They (the municipalities) just haven’t responded (to the moratorium),” Sisulu said, adding that land sales had in fact peaked shortly after the moratorium was put in place.

“We’ve lost out a number of times on this, which is why we’ve decided to take a very aggressive stand, because it’s a short-term gain that municipalities have and a long-term spatial disaster that we’re sitting with.”

An additional problem was the rate at which housing beneficiaries were selling their new homes and moving back into informal shacks, thereby adding to the delivery backlog: “It’s like putting water into a bucket and not plugging the leak,” Sisulu said, adding that new legislation would address the problem.

Sisulu’s comments follow several controversies involving commonage land in municipalities including Hermanus, George, Stellenbosch and Ekurhuleni.

The Stellenbosch council recently ordered the continuation of a far-reaching audit into the status of 1700ha of commonage land, believed to be worth almost R2-billion, some of which was sold to developers to create luxury golf resorts and dished out to white commercial farmers on 50-year leases.

Housing experts this week said municipal commonage should be ceded to the housing department free of charge, because the Constitution said that the “history of acquisition” should determine the amount of financial compensation.

The same principle applied to parastatal land, experts said.

Kobus Pienaar, spokesman for the Legal Resources Centre, said: “In cases where land was granted free of charge to municipalities, it doesn’t make sense that they should sell it off for the purposes of more golf courses.”

He said that land granted free of charge for the benefit of the community should also not be subject to land claims.

“The municipality should be making this land available for the benefit of its residents while retaining ownership. Once you transfer a piece of the commonage off, you effectively wave it goodbye,” Pienaar said.

Sisulu said that, in future, housing officials would work closely with land affairs to speed up land acquisition for housing.

Once suitable land was secured, the new Housing Agency could more effectively initiate and monitor public- private partnerships.

A case in point was the transfer of municipal land from the Cape Town Council for the development of the N2 Gateway project outside the city. “It took a year for the city to transfer the land to us, a year in which the principle developer, First National Bank, could not move forward,” Sisulu said.

The biggest problem was the ‘‘tedious processes” that people had to go through to get land. This could take up to three years, she said.