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