/ 9 November 2018

CT social housing brought to standstill

Delays: The urban development department in Cape Town
Delays: The urban development department in Cape Town, formerly headed by Brett Heron, has pushed for social housing developments such as at the Salt River Market in the inner city. (David Harrison)

City of Cape Town officials are deadlocked over how to release municipal-owned land for social housing, paralysing the release of five prime locations for affordable housing in and around the city bowl.

A trail of emails and damning reports seen by the Mail & Guardian reveal how a dispute by three city departments over a legal technicality have brought the delivery of well-located social housing to a near standstill.

The property management department and the immovable property adjudication committee (IPAC) are the authorities responsible for managing city-owned property and recommending to the council what city-owned land can be transferred.

Brett Herron, a lawyer and the former Democratic Alliance and mayoral committee member for urban development and transport, has alleged that this dispute over a legal technicality is a smokescreen for IPAC and property management to deliberately block social housing.

“This is about the blockages that have been put in place,” Herron said.

Since he resigned last week, he has been on a furious campaign to point the blame at the DA for the shortage of social housing in Cape Town’s inner city.

READ MORE: Brett Herron resigns from DA claiming party blocked affordable housing

Documents show that officials in property management and the IPAC were turning away proposals for land transfer before they even reached those politicians Herron has claimed are responsible for the bottleneck.

A progress report, dated September 4 2018, includes six sites in Woodstock and Salt River that have been identified for social housing and mixed development use. Five of these projects have ground to a halt because of a dispute about the legalities of how the city should dispose of its land, according to the report.

On the one side of the stand-off is the IPAC and property management and on the other is the transport development authority department, under which social housing falls.

The dispute is about at what point in the process a feasibility study of a “mixed-use” development is required.

In the progress report, this legal confusion has been referred to by the social housing officials as the “chicken and egg dilemma”.

The progress report, authored by social housing officials, was submitted because a spat was brewing between Herron’s transport development authority department — where social housing officials work — and the IPAC and property management. The reports served as a way for meetings between the disgruntled parties to be monitored by senior city officials.

The Municipal Asset Transfer Regulations govern how municipalities should transfer land. But the property management department, according to a legal opinion by the city’s legal services, raised questions about how to interpret the regulations in relation to the developmentof the five sites.

The projects in Woodstock and Salt River propose social housing and commercial developments. The regulations did not cover mixed-use developments, according to the legal opinion, leading to confusion on the part of officials.

The legal opinion was sought after property management raised concerns. It advised that, for a mixed-use development, the council would first need to approve the transfer of the land and then put out a request for proposals. Only once these were studied would a feasibility study be permissible.

But, according to the social housing progress report, project management has asked for the value of the land — part of a feasibility study — to be included in the reports on the five sites before they even go to council.

Although the transport development authority department may be able to ignore the legal opinion, Heron has said his former officials had not yet received approval to study the 15 bids that have been proposed for the sites and therefore could not determine the value. The bids were made before the legal opinion was provided. They cannot be evaluated because social housing officials will study the proposals only after the council approves the land transfers. The projects are now stuck and there has been no progress reports since September.

The M&G sent the city detailed questions directed at the IPAC, the property management department and city manager Lungelo Mbandazayo.

But Priya Reddy, the director for communications, said the city declined to comment. “The City of Cape Town is confident in its processes,” she said.

The Salt River Market, which is located at the junction of Albert and Voortrekker roads in Salt River, managed to escape the legal quagmire because the site was identified at least seven years ago, before the legal opinion was sought.

In 2014, the site was valued at R18-million, but its value has since increased to R114-million, according to reports the M&G has seen. But the Salt River Market development has been halted because the DA caucus in the council has not yet supported it.

A tearful Herron alleged at a press conference last week that the DA was deliberately halting social housing development in well-located areas.

READ MORE: Housing in DA country: Pelican Park

The caucus deputy leader, JP Smith, countered this, saying: “The DA is solidly behind it.”

Herron alleged that, during the caucus meeting at which the Salt River Market site was discussed, Smith had said “transformation raises alarm bells”. Smith has denied the claim and is preparing to send Herron a lawyer’s letter demanding a retraction.

But even before the matter was put before the council, it was beset by bureaucratic delays, which mostly occurred when social housing officials presented the proposal to the IPAC, after receiving the go-ahead from project management. Eventually the IPAC signed off on it and it could go to council.

Ultimately, while the officials bicker, inner city social housing has been stymied.