Housing policy to favour urban areas

Drew Forrest

The government has responded to the Bredell land invasion earlier this year in a crucial policy shift on shelter provision that will favour urban provinces and accelerate the release of land to urban shack-dwellers.

The new approach is essentially a revival of former housing minister Joe Slovo’s incremental housing policy, as an alternative to “development-driven” formal housing.

At its meeting this week the Cabinet agreed on a new funding formula for the provinces that will include “weighting on the basis of the number of homeless people, and people living in shacks, backyards, rooms and flats”.

One consequence of this was that urban provinces like Gauteng and the Western Cape, “where greater need has been identified”, would receive more funds than rural areas.

The policy marks a reversal of a government decision some years ago to favour rural provinces in terms of housing allocations, as a way of promoting development. It was criticised for ignoring the effects of urban drift on demand for shelter in South Africa’s burgeoning towns and cities.

The Cabinet also agreed to extend the rapid land-release programme in place in some provinces, notably Gauteng, “for implementation at national level”.

Rapid land release was pioneered in Gauteng by the provincial government and the Department of Agriculture and Land Affairs under the first African National Congress government.
Involving the provision of surveyed sites with secure tenure, and basic services, it was a response to homeless urban people who wanted land for shack-building, rather than formal houses beyond their means.

The programme was shelved in Gauteng post-1999 after new Minister of Agriculture and Land Affairs Thoko Didiza ruled that land reform was a mainly rural matter entailing black farmer promotion. The needs of the urban homeless thus fell between two stools land affairs and the housing department, which was preoccupied with building formal Reconstruction and Development Programme houses.

The CEO of the National Urban Housing and Reconstruction Agency, Cedric de Beer, described the policy shift as “a sensible one”. “There is clearly a drift to urban areas, and the allocation of state resources needs to accommodate population growth there,” he said.

Another advantage was that the policy would mobilise people’s own resources in providing shelter for themselves, including savings and family labour.

This did not mean that the state’s subsidy housing programme is a failure. It had delivered 1,2-million formal houses in six years, and released a great deal of land, De Beer said.

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