Radical Plans To Change The Face Of Housing Delivery

Pretoria - With a housing backlog of over two million and more than 12 million people in dire need of houses, government is embarking on radical changes that could turn the tide of housing delivery in the country, reports Chris Bathembu.

According to data from the Department of Human Settlements, some 2.7 million houses have been built in South Africa over the last 14 years. Officials acknowledge that the post 1994 South Africa marked the beginning of an unprecedented demand for houses as more people moved to urban areas in search of new economic opportunities that were being created by the new democratic order.

The demand became so high that the then Department of Housing was forced to look outside itself for solutions to meet its deadline for delivery when it announced the establishment of a Housing Development Agency last year.

Since its inception, the agency has facilitated the acquisition of land for housing developments across the country, allowing for more than 240 000 new houses to be handed over to new owners between 2008 and 2009. Spending on housing delivery had also increased from R4.8 billion in 2004/05 to R10.9 billion in the last financial year, increasing at an average rate of 23 percent. Authorities, however, admit that there have been challenges.

"It's a challenge and its going to take us time, but we will get there, it's going to take one step at a time," says Human Settlements Minister Tokyo Sexwale. He is adamant the new national housing policy could turn the tide in the delivery of houses, an issue that has become central to service delivery protests throughout the country.

One of the strategies listed in the policy, the People's Housing Process (PHP), will see the establishment of a new funding mechanism that will allow for more community-driven projects in the delivery of what is now being termed "human settlements". Government has also realised that the concept of just building houses without proper monitoring and maintenance has resulted in unscrupulous contractors costing the state more than R1 billion to rebuild badly constructed houses.

Sexwale says the growing demand for shelter and the mushrooming of informal settlements in most urban areas has necessitated a new approach to the housing challenge, one which will minimise corruption in the delivery of adequate houses.

"We don't just build houses anymore, that thing is not working, we are building human settlements…people must have clinics, police stations and the places where children can play and we are involving communities in that," he said during the launch of the first PHP-model housing development in Plettenberg Bay recently.

The model has also been introduced in Gauteng where 907 units were handed over to residents of DoornKop, Soweto two weeks ago. Once completed, it is expected to create more than 24 000 housing opportunities for people who qualify for subsidised housing and those who earn between R3500 and R7500 monthly. The development also forms part of the southern extension of the township.

The PHP policy further proposes an alignment of the existing housing delivery programmes but with a focus on partnerships amongst non-governmental organisations and community groupings. The process involves beneficiaries actively participating in decision making over the housing process and housing product.

"Beneficiaries are empowered individually and collectively so that the community ultimately takes control of the housing process themselves. This includes identifying the land, planning the settlement, getting approvals and resources to begin the development," says the policy. The basic entry requirement for the programme is that individuals need to be part of an already organised community group or must have indicated they want to participate in a community driven housing project.

Richard Dyantyi, special advisor to Sexwale, says plans are underway to introduce a voucher system from which organised communities would be given vouchers to access building material and short courses to enable them to start their own housing projects.

"These are the proposals that we need to debate and take to the people because a lot is involved with human settlement, you need parks, you need clinics……. so it's very important that we empower these communities so they can deliver human settlements that will be sustainable."

But the PHP has not been without challenges. One of the concerns raised during a conference to debate the policy had been the amount of time it takes for municipalities to release land for PHP projects, something believed to be causing delays for some community projects.

The PHP's policy framework and guidelines were at one stage also met with much resistance from some quarters as "they were too narrow in their focus" and apparently did not redefine the policy in a way that community-driven initiatives could be included. The department had, however since agreed to review the guidelines. Provinces are required to manage their demand databases "more effectively" to prevent confusion on waiting lists that has led to conflicts in many parts of the country.

"PHP encourages government supporting those communities who want to work with government to build human settlements in terms of a demand led approach …this must be viewed and managed constructively so that is not seen as a means of queue jumping," reads the policy.

Dyantyi says if implemented correctly, the policy could benefit millions of people in need of houses and could be the answer to the country's housing delivery challenges. "What we are saying therefore, everyone needs to own this and it must be left squarely in the hands of government," he added.

= BuaNews