Rethinking the State’s Housing Programme

17 May 2012

Rethinking the State's Housing Programme: Finding a sustainable and responsive solution to the need for adequate shelter and the right to the city

by S'bu Zikode

I wish to submit and insist that it will be disastrous to commit our contributions to economic growth instead of social growth and the development of the poor. The problem with this is that economic growth for the rich often does not help the poor – sometimes it happens by oppressing the poor. We cannot continue to support the rich to get richer while the poor are getting poorer in the hope that one day the poor will also get some of this wealth. We have to start with the urgent needs of the poor – with the urgent needs that people have today.

In countries where there has been real progress on urban issues there has been an agreement that the social value of land (its value to people) must come before its commercial value (its value in terms of money). In Brazil this was even made part of the law called the City Statute. This agreement came out of years of struggle. There will only be laws and policies that take the lives of poor people seriously when the poor have built our own power in society. And on their own these laws and policies will not work unless the poor remain permanently organised and strong.

When most people come to cities, they usually do not come for housing but for better paying jobs, to run businesses, access education and health facilities and for other means of survival. But while working or looking for a job a place to live decent becomes necessary. When economic growth and investment is only focused in cities then we have no choice but to continue coming to cities for better lives. Urbanization and migration is the only way to some hope for millions of people.

To solve our problems we would have to somehow think about a society driven economy, that is an economy designed and led by people. We would need an economy that goes to people instead of people going to the economy. Right now the economy is designed to dictate our future as a society instead of society designing an economy to dictate our future.

We cannot resolve the housing crisis without resolving the economic crisis. And real progress on the housing crisis will not come until we put the social value of land before its commercial value. But there are many steps that can be taken right now to make things better for people.

Sustainable and responsive housing solutions right now must:

1. Ensure that all new housing developments are in well located areas.

2. Take seriously that participatory in situ-upgrades are better than forcing people to rural dumping grounds.

3. Make sure that all shack settlements are provided with services and support while they wait for housing.

4. Eradicate transit camps as a matter of urgency.

5. Ensure that all new developments are co-designed with the people that will live in them.

6. Ensure that officials must negotiate with democratic community structures and not ward committees.

7. Make sure that there are no more forced removals and evictions. No one must ever be left homeless in the name of 'housing delivery'.

8. Eradicate corruption.

9. Eradicate repression.

10. Support democratic community structures and movements to engage the state at all levels.

This document was prepared in response to a request to produce a one page document as a contribution to a discussion on the future of housing policy.)