Upgrading informal settlements is a complex challenge

Informal settlements. (Supplied)

Informal settlements. (Supplied)

The upgrading of informal settlements has been a cornerstone of the housing and human settlements delivery programme since 1997, says KPMG senior manager: infrastructure and major projects, Zunaid Khan. 

The government has been trying to address the fact that large numbers of people live in sub-standard environments with no running water, electricity and sanitation. 

Upgrading of informal settlements is part of the National Housing Programme, which aims to address the country’s housing challenges, including details on the norms and standards to be followed, he says. As part of the government’s delivery agenda the upgrading programme has received prominence as a dedicated programme geared to improve access to services to households living in these conditions.  

When the government began its upgrade project in 1997, there were 300 informal settlements; by 2012 there were 2700. This is not a reflection of the government failing to deliver, he says, but rather on the rate of urbanisation post-1994. 

The understanding of the dynamics and complexities around informal settlements needs to be couched in a rationale that counters the conservative notion that informal settlements are a threat, he says. 

“Conversely, they are in fact a response to rapid urbanisation and the provision of and access to accommodation that the delivery model was unable to keep pace with,” he says. 

The initial premise around informal settlement upgrading focused on eradication and large scale housing delivery to meet such a policy direction. With the promulgation of “Breaking New Ground” in 2004 came a shift in focus towards the development of sustainable human settlements. 

The legislation has a distinct focus on incremental upgrading, with a view to providing a range of services and developmental solutions for addressing the plight of households in informal settlements.   

Additionally, the national directive provided a people-centered approach premised on access to basic services, a variety of tenure options, the development of social facilities, identifying and registering informal settlements and providing detailed plans and project specific upgrading for the identified informal settlements. This culminated in the development of the Upgrading of Informal Settlements Programme in the National Housing Code.

As part of the approach to enhance and speed up delivery, the government initiated the National Upgrading Support Programme, with the national department of human settlements. 

It has taken the upgrading of informal settlements to project level and put memorandums of understanding in place with 45 municipalities. The national department partners with the local governments to provide the skills and technical support they need to improve the upgrading process and boost capacity at the local government level.

The state is also providing funding, says Khan, by way of an urban settlements development grant (USDG). The USDG was devised to ensure that the upgrading process and the installation of bulk infrastructure, in particular, was adequately funded to mitigate bottlenecks that were hampering the process. It allows for improved infrastructure to meet the provision of access to basic services for households living in informal settlements. 

The outcomes-based approach adopted by the president placed further emphasis on the upgrading of informal settlements. 

“National Development Outcome 8 mandates the upgrading of 400 000 households by 2014.  Attached to the outputs of the outcomes-based approach were dedicated delivery agreements that provided for measurable performance and delivery targets against which provincial and local government would be accountable for the upgrading of informal settlements. 

“Central to the upgrading process and the outcomes based approach was the realisation that although in excess of 2.3-million houses have been built, the growth in the delivery backlog and the number of houses required had increased. 

“Further to this was the realisation that the delivery model and attached or applicable legislation and planning processes ensured that housing delivery took on average between 6 and 8 years. 

“Informal settlement upgrading thus is a developmental process that needs to be a part of the whole that is human settlement delivery. The drive in the current climate is therefore to develop the incremental settlement process in such a manner that it will lead to access to integrated human settlements comprised of a range of housing typologies, that are mixed income, mixed use and have access to a range of amenities, social spaces and services.” 

Examples of such developments include Cosmo City, Cornubia, N2 Gateway and Lufhereng.  Alexandra Township — and its formalised upgrading process — embodies the tenets of the human settlement development ambit. It is a Presidential Priority Project, Khan says, as “this is where people live in the worst conditions as a result of overcrowding”. 

Upgrading Alexandra, says Khan, is a complex and dynamic project. “Alex is constrained by the highway on one side, a landfill on the other, the water course that runs through it and makes some areas prone to flooding, and the fact that it is in a valley. Its long history means people do not want to leave because it is close to Sandton and town. It is strategically located and provides access to opportunities for people in the richest square mile in Africa.”

This compendium of the dynamics associated with incremental upgrading the Alexandra Renewal Project (a collaboration between the three spheres of government) provides the perfect litmus test for the government’s delivery agenda.  

“The project has been underway for the past 10 years and will continue for the next 10 and the project needs to address the requirement for rental ownership, different types of housing, land claims, rightful ownership and ongoing development,” says Khan.

The project includes formal housing, education and health facilities as well as the transport interchanges needed to efficiently allow people to move in and out. “Effectively it will be a microcosm of the city,” Khan says, “and the City of Johannesburg has come up with some innovative solutions, including linking up the bus rapid transport system, a pedestrian bridge over the highway and a road interchange.”

That the complexities attached to upgrading informal settlements have become better understood — and thus incorporated into the delivery agenda — has resulted in the upgrading of informal settlements (and thus human settlement delivery) taking longer. 

The process has multiple stakeholders and requires active citizenry in the process.  It also requires key funding alignment, enhanced methodologies and value propositions that are able to provide value add for the entire project life cycle, Khan says.  

“It is also important to note that, as a consequence of rapid urbanisation, the nature of informal settlements, their growth, their function and existence are neither unique nor a first. 

“The programmatic approach adopted across the South African developmental landscape, with a state-driven upgrading agenda premised on asset ownership and thus asset based wealth creation, is a first. 

“There are, however, important shared experiences and lessons that can be extracted from similar rapidly urbanising countries like Kenya, Nigeria, India and Thailand, to name a few. 

“The informal settlement praxis is cross-border in nature and thus the process towards incremental upgrading, the complexities and dynamism is universal.”

This article has been made possible by the Mail & Guardian advertisers. Content has been supplied and signed off by KPMG. 



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