Human Settlements White Paper highlights problems with housing provision

Issued by Luyolo Mphithi MP – DA Shadow Minister of Human Settlements
23 Feb 2024 in News

The DA welcomes the emphasis the Draft White Paper for Human Settlements seem to place on public-private partnerships and a whole-of-society approach to solving the country’s housing problems. We would, however, caution the Minister that no partnership with the private sector would absolve the government from playing an enabling role in ensuring affordable housing stock and spatial development.

The White Paper aligns with the DA’s own position paper on housing and urban development, A Firm Foundation, on a number of issues, including the focus on improving socio-economic circumstances through property ownership and the identification of challenges to housing provision.

The White Paper captures the extent to which “current housing policies and legislation is lacking in its endeavor to provide sustainable human settlements”.

According to the 2022 Census, 88% of South Africans reside in formal dwellings, 8% in informal dwellings, and 8% in traditional dwellings. Unfortunately, people with lower incomes are having increasing difficulty in accessing the property market due to the current stringent lending regulations, as well as the increased cost of living, rising interest rates, and below-inflation salary increases leading to less disposable income. Almost a quarter of South Africans have to rely on social grants as their main source of income.

The ANC government’s provision of housing has been in steep decline from 235 635 units built in 1998/99 to only 69 513 in 2019/20, while sites decreased from 117 845 in 2006/07 to 51 166 in 2019/20. This is largely due to the ANC’s legislative shortcomings that have brought about economic decline. This coupled with the impact of land invasions on housing provision has continued to make the issue complex.

A big focus of the DA’s position paper is the curbing of illegal land grabs, which not only slows the provision of services to settlements and disenfranchises people that have patiently awaited development, but also puts the land grabbers in danger in cases where the occupied land is unsuitable for human settlement and service provision.

The White Paper aligns with the DA position in that adequate housing provision should be measured against security of tenure; availability of services, materials, facilities and infrastructure; affordability; habitability; accessibility; location; and cultural adequacy, and not just provision of housing units. The DA-run Western Cape’s Better Living Challenge already empowers residents by providing training, innovative solutions, and access to affordable and environmentally friendly products for home improvement.

The City of Cape Town designs spatial solutions around the zoning of plots and not the number of dwellings on it, in an effort to better provide adequate services to sites. Land is zoned for two or more dwellings and a small to medium home-based enterprise or a third dwelling, because the DA believes that housing, the economy, and livelihoods are intrinsically linked.

One of our concerns with the White Paper is its focus on expropriating land and buildings owned by the private sector where it is deemed underutilised and is well located for the development of human settlements. Given the ANC government’s natural tendency to corruption, it is concerning that expropriation is not more rigorously examined. And while the release of government land for the purpose of human settlement is included in the Paper, it should be noted that the ANC government’s commitment has already been tested in this regard and found wanting.

The City of Cape Town has repeatedly pushed for the release of Acacia Park and the Ysterplaat, Wingfield and Youngsfield military bases, and despite an undertaking from national government in 2019, this promise has yet to be fulfilled. The release of this land would have a significant impact on the City’s ability to provide between 43 524 and 234 303 affordable housing options, and yet the ANC government refuses to relinquish it.

White Papers, policy and legislation changes, and the promises of alternative funding models means nothing without the political will to affect real change and put the needs of the people first. The ANC government has proven that it has no interest in doing that.