Special-needs hous­ing still a dream

Two years af­ter the fi­nal­i­sa­tion of a special-needs hous­ing pol­icy, it is yet to be tabled for ap­proval

CityPress - - Voices -

The hous­ing sec­tor is be­set with chal­lenges, most no­tably a se­vere hous­ing short­age, a size­able back­log in hous­ing pro­vi­sion and se­vere over­crowd­ing. De­spite these chal­lenges, gov­ern­ment’s ef­forts in ad­dress­ing the hous­ing prob­lem must be ac­knowl­edged. Be­tween 1994 and 2014, about 2.8 mil­lion state-sub­sidised houses and in ex­cess of 875 000 ser­viced sites were de­liv­ered, ben­e­fit­ing around 12.5 mil­lion peo­ple. How­ever, with the alarm­ing state the hous­ing sec­tor is in, peo­ple with special needs who re­quire ac­cess to hous­ing bear an ad­di­tional bur­den.

Although the state has taken steps to pro­vide hous­ing to vul­ner­a­ble groups, par­tic­u­larly peo­ple with phys­i­cal dis­abil­i­ties and the aged, a range of other vul­ner­a­ble per­sons who re­quire special-needs hous­ing struggle to ac­cess state as­sis­tance. Some of these vul­ner­a­ble groups in­clude per­sons with in­tel­lec­tual and psy­chi­atric dis­abil­i­ties, vic­tims of do­mes­tic abuse, or­phans, the home­less, per­sons un­der­go­ing sub­stance re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion and parolees, ex-of­fend­ers and ju­ve­nile of­fend­ers. The chal­lenges fac­ing these groups are il­lus­trated by the re­cent Life Esidi­meni tragedy in which an es­ti­mated 94 men­tal health­care pa­tients died at 16 non­govern­men­tal or­gan­i­sa­tions (NGOs) and three hos­pi­tals from non-psy­chi­atric re­lated con­di­tions such as de­hy­dra­tion.

In June 2015, the depart­ment of hu­man set­tle­ments, af­ter ex­ten­sive con­sul­ta­tions with civil so­ci­ety or­gan­i­sa­tions, de­vel­oped the draft Special Hous­ing Needs Pol­icy and Pro­gramme, which was aimed at pro­vid­ing hous­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties for per­sons who – for a va­ri­ety of rea­sons – are un­able to live in­de­pen­dently in stan­dard-type hous­ing or re­quire as­sis­tance in terms of a safe, sup­port­ive and pro­tected liv­ing en­vi­ron­ment and who there­fore need some level of care or pro­tec­tion, be it on a per­ma­nent or tem­po­rary ba­sis. The main ob­jec­tive of the pol­icy is to pro­vide cap­i­tal grants to approved and reg­is­tered NGOs “for the ac­qui­si­tion or de­vel­op­ment of new and/or the ex­ten­sion of and/or up­grad­ing or re­fur­bish­ment of ex­ist­ing special-hous­ing needs fa­cil­i­ties for per­sons or house­holds with special-hous­ing needs”. How­ever, two years af­ter the fi­nal­i­sa­tion of the pol­icy, it is yet to be tabled for Cabinet ap­proval.

A study by the SA Hu­man Rights Commission (SAHRC) found that the pol­icy had not been fi­nalised due to a lack of con­sen­sus about which gov­ern­ment depart­ment’s man­date most ap­pro­pri­ately cov­ers the pro­vi­sion of spe­cial­needs hous­ing. Hu­man Set­tle­ments ex­pressed the view that while it bears pri­mary re­spon­si­bil­ity for the im­ple­men­ta­tion of this pol­icy, it is con­cerned about who bears re­spon­si­bil­ity for over­sight and funding for oper­a­tional management of the hous­ing post con­struc­tion.

The re­port makes the ar­gu­ment that ef­fec­tive in­ter­gov­ern­men­tal co­op­er­a­tion is es­sen­tial for the ex­e­cu­tion of the special-needs hous­ing pol­icy. It also crit­i­cises the highly bu­reau­cratic na­ture of the pol­icy’s de­ci­sion-mak­ing struc­ture and how this can cause de­lays in im­ple­men­ta­tion. The re­port found that there was a se­vere bur­den on non­profit or­gan­i­sa­tions (NPOs) to as­sist gov­ern­ment in its pro­vi­sion of special-needs hous­ing. While this model has many ad­van­tages, the na­tional hous­ing pol­icy frame­work does not cur­rently make pro­vi­sion for cap­i­tal grant funding to NPOs that pro­vide hous­ing to peo­ple with special needs. In iden­ti­fy­ing po­ten­tial so­lu­tions to en­sure the fi­nal­i­sa­tion of the pol­icy, the re­port pro­poses the need for a clear divi­sion of roles. At a meet­ing which in­cluded the de­part­ments of health, hu­man set­tle­ments and so­cial de­vel­op­ment, and civil so­ci­ety rep­re­sen­ta­tives it was ac­knowl­edged that cur­rently, NPOs are sent “back and forth” be­tween var­i­ous gov­ern­ment en­ti­ties and that these de­lays, due to both in­suf­fi­cient avail­abil­ity of suit­able fa­cil­i­ties and un­af­ford­able spaces within ex­ist­ing fa­cil­i­ties, mean that vul­ner­a­ble per­sons are un­able to ac­cess spe­cial­needs hous­ing.

Other is­sues raised re­gard­ing the pol­icy in­cluded the chal­lenge of con­duct­ing a so­cioe­co­nomic im­pact study of the pol­icy, ca­pac­ity build­ing, oper­a­tional and funding sup­port to NGOs which pro­vide ac­com­mo­da­tion to per­sons with special needs and the lack of cost­ing for oper­a­tional management in the pol­icy post con­struc­tion. For civil so­ci­ety, the main is­sues were ac­count­abil­ity for the fail­ure in pro­vid­ing special-needs hous­ing and co­op­er­a­tive gov­er­nance be­tween na­tional and pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment.

In the in­terim, it is pro­posed that the scope of the pro­vin­cial hu­man set­tle­ments de­part­ments’ de­ci­sion-mak­ing author­ity is in­creased while clear norms and stan­dards are set to en­sure that NPOs are able to ac­cess in­sti­tu­tional sub­si­dies to fund their op­er­a­tions.

Na­tional and pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ments need to work to­gether in en­sur­ing that the right to hous­ing for peo­ple with special needs is up­held. Ex­tended de­lays in the fi­nal­i­sa­tion of the pol­icy have real con­se­quences for peo­ple with special needs, as the Life Esidi­meni tragedy demon­strates.

Sinethemba Memela, Ta­tenda Mu­randa and Querida Saal are re­searchers with the SAHRC

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