Make use of pri­vate sec­tor to al­le­vi­ate low-cost hous­ing back­log, says de­vel­oper

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - PROPERTY -

A STATE­MENT crit­i­cis­ing the gov­ern­ment’s pol­icy of ap­point­ing con­trac­tors for low-cost hous­ing mainly on the ba­sis of their pre­vi­ously dis­ad­van­taged cre­den­tials and without ref­er­ence to their track record or ex­pe­ri­ence has drawn heated re­sponses from all over the coun­try for Paul Henry, manag­ing di­rec­tor of Raw­son De­vel­op­ers.

Henry says emails and tele­phone calls came in af­ter the pub­li­ca­tion of the state­ment and con­firm that many peo­ple are frus­trated and dis­il­lu­sioned by the way the good in­ten­tions of the pre­vi­ous Hous­ing Min­is­ter, Lindiwe Sisulu, have failed to trans­late into de­liv­ery at any­thing like the re­quired pace.

“There is a very large pool of tal­ented in­di­vid­u­als with the ex­peri- ence and train­ing to tackle hous­ing de­liv­ery who, for one rea­son or an­other, are ex­cluded from the process. This is a tragedy for South Africa. Also, it is clear the new Min­is­ter of Hu­man Set­tle­ments, Tokyo Sexwale, faces a mas­sive chal­lenge – which he has ac­knowl­edged – be­cause Sisulu’s ‘Break­ing New Ground’ (BNG) pol­icy has been in­ef­fec­tive.”

Henry says the aim of the BNG pol­icy was to erad­i­cate shack set­tle­ments by 2014. In re­al­ity, how­ever, there has been an in­crease in the num­ber of un­ser­viced shack set­tle­ments coun­try­wide and a des­per­ate short­age of af­ford­able hous­ing.

“Three fac­tors are en­sur­ing that the whole sit­u­a­tion will con­tinue to de­te­ri­o­rate. Th­ese are rapid pop­ula- tion growth; the on­go­ing move to the cities (a world­wide trend); and the in­flux of im­pov­er­ished refugees, asy­lum and work seek­ers from other coun­tries.

“This sce­nario in­evitably calls for a rapid in­crease in the de­liv­ery of low-cost homes, in most cases made avail­able at min­i­mal prices or low rentals. How­ever, this is not hap­pen­ing be­cause red tape and bu­reau­cratic in­er­tia in the Plan­ning and Land Use De­part­ments at pro­vin­cial level and in the city coun­cils make it im­pos­si­ble to de­liver at the re­quired rate, even though the money has of­ten been al­lo­cated.”

He says the sit­u­a­tion is com­pli­cated by the fact that many of those who have re­ceived free or sub­sidised houses of­ten use the units to earn an in­come rather than live in them.

Henry says any re­view of suc­cess­ful shack clear­ance and low­cost hous­ing units world­wide (but notably in In­dia and Brazil) will show that, un­til the state makes full use of the pri­vate sec­tor in all phases of the op­er­a­tion, the hous­ing sys­tems tend to re­main bogged down. “The dan­ger of in­volv­ing the pri­vate sec­tor,” he says, “is that cor­rup­tion can creep in.

“The first step would have to be a mas­sive up­grad­ing of in­for­mal set­tle­ments: 4.2 mil­lion South African house­holds at the mo­ment do not have ba­sic san­i­ta­tion and clean wa­ter ser­vices.

“Sec­ond, there needs to be far more va­cant land ser­viced within the next 24 months, with the nec­es­sary sew­er­age, wa­ter and elec­tri­cal retic­u­la­tion, to al­low those with the ini­tia­tive to build for them­selves to do so.”

He says plots of this kind should be sold on a free­hold ba­sis at low cost – any­thing from R500 to R1 500 – but the sub­se­quent shack build­ing should be con­trolled to en­sure that home own­ers don’t ex­ceed the space al­lo­cated to them.

Third, says Henry, the gov­ern­ment should en­cour­age de­vel­op­ers to ex­per­i­ment and make use of the in­no­va­tive, cheaper build­ing sys­tems that have ap­peared in tech­ni­cal jour­nals and at pub­lic ex­hi­bi­tions like the Rand Easter Show.

“There is a sad his­tory of th­ese al­most in­vari­ably be­ing re­jected by the city coun­cils be­cause they are not as neat and as eas­ily un­der­stood as the tra­di­tional, bor­ing con­crete block sys­tems. How­ever, they can very of­ten be more at­trac­tive, ther­mally ef­fi­cient and, in most cases, a lot cheaper.”

As a fourth step in speed­ing up the de­liv­ery process, Henry says he would en­cour­age far more wide- spread use of the pop­u­lar three­storey walk-up apart­ments when new de­vel­op­ments are be­ing con­sid­ered. Th­ese he says, still pro­vide the cheapest high-den­sity so­lu­tion.

“Solv­ing the hous­ing cri­sis in South Africa will not be easy, but that is ex­actly why we need the in­volve­ment of all those with in­depth ex­pe­ri­ence from the pri­vate sec­tor.

“We could be looking at a sit­u­a­tion in which, in the year ahead, large-scale land re­leases with ser­vices and far more rapid de­liv­ery of homes be­come a re­al­ity.

It is cer­tainly en­cour­ag­ing to see that the min­is­ter is tackling the re­pair of some 3 000 ex­ist­ing homes with vigour and determination,” says Henry.

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