City to crunch num­bers on back­yarder pop­u­la­tion

Ma­jor base­line study planned and will be launched next year

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - FRONT PAGE - MICHAEL MOR­RIS

CAPE Town is em­bark­ing on a ma­jor base­line study of “back­yard” liv­ing – from granny flats in leafy sub­urbs to back-yard shacks across the Cape Flats – to bet­ter fac­tor the phe­nom­e­non into de­vel­op­ing and ser­vic­ing the city.

Back­yard dwelling – mostly in­for­mal liv­ing units in yards or gar­dens – is a con­se­quence of Cape Town’s growth through ur­ban­i­sa­tion and a crit­i­cal fea­ture of the in­evitable den­si­fi­ca­tion on which a more com­pact and sus­tain­able ur­ban form will de­pend.

In some parts of the city, how­ever, back­yard liv­ing has led to over-crowd­ing and as­so­ci­ated health, fire and other risks.

A key el­e­ment of the study, due to be­gin in phases next year, will be find­ing ways to re­in­force the pos­i­tive as­pects of back­yard dwelling and re­duce the neg­a­tives.

Cen­sus fig­ures from 2011 put the num­ber of back­yard dwellers at 80 000 – 45 000 of them on coun­cil prop­erty, the re­main­der on pri­vate land.

Cape Town’s growth – 30 per­cent be­tween 2001 and 2011 – has meant de­mand for land and af­ford­able hous­ing has out­stripped sup­ply.

The hous­ing wait­ing list of 300 000 is grow­ing by more than 1 000 a month, but sub­sidised hous­ing is only for peo­ple earn­ing un­der R3 000 a month.

Back­yard dwelling has be­come one of the op­tions for ac­com­mo­da­tion-seek­ers.

Most pay monthly rentals thought to range be­tween R500 and R1 500, mak­ing back­yard dwelling a sec­tor worth be­tween R40 mil­lion and R80m a month, ex­clud­ing back­yard rentals in bet­ter-off sub­urbs.

The city has made mul­ti­mil­lion-rand in­vest­ments in the past few years in pro­vid­ing ser­vices di­rectly to back­yard dwellers, but ac­knowl­edges it is a phe­nom­e­non which is only patchily un­der­stood. In ad­di­tion, mu­nic­i­pal leg­is­la­tion lim­its the city’s scope to in­vest in in­fra­struc­ture on pri­vate land.

In an in­ter­view, may­oral com­mit­tee mem­ber for hu­man set­tle­ments Bene­dicta van Min­nen and act­ing ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor for hu­man set­tle­ments Ri­ana Pre­to­rius un­der­scored the com­plex­ity of back­yard dwelling and the im­por­tance of ac­knowl­edg­ing it as a fix­ture of the ur­ban land­scape.

One of the dif­fi­cul­ties was that it was im­per­fectly un­der­stood.

Pre­to­rius said while the city’s ini­tia­tive of re­cent years to de­liver ser­vices to back­yarders re­flected the “pri­ori­ti­sa­tion” of this sig­nif­i­cant ac­com­mo­da­tion sec­tor, “when you look at it from an an­a­lyt­i­cal sta­tis­ti­cal point of view – the lo­ca­tion and den­si­ties, where there is growth, what the trends are – we have only pock­ets of in­for­ma­tion”.

“It’s dif­fi­cult to mea­sure trends with­out base­line data.”

To this end, the city was com­mis­sion­ing re­searchers and sur­vey com­pa­nies to roll out the study from next year.

It would en­com­pass the whole metropoli­tan area.

The in­for­ma­tion would be es­sen­tial in de­ter­min­ing where to en­cour­age, or dis­cour­age, den­si­fi­ca­tion and how to min­imise fire, health and other risks.

“Back­yarders are here to stay, and our ap­proach is, let’s re­move the ‘il­le­gal’ (un­planned struc­ture) tag, ac­knowl­edge them and de­liver a bet­ter level of ser­vices.”

A telling ini­tia­tive is that new plan­ning di­rec­tives will fac­tor back­yard dwelling into new sites.

Pre­to­rius said: “When we em­bark on new devel­op­ment, we will be look­ing at a 75m² erf de­signed in such a way that you can have a for­mal house and two back­yard op­por­tu­ni­ties at the back, with up­front in­fra­struc­ture and ser­vice points to ac­com­mo­date this for­mat.”

An im­por­tant fea­ture of the study will be how to help back­yarders liv­ing on pri­vate prop­erty.

Van Min­nen pointed out back­yard dwelling re­flected other dy­nam­ics which were im­por­tant to the so­cio- eco­nomic fab­ric of com­mu­ni­ties.

These in­cluded the preservation of ex­tended- fam­ily bonds, the sense of com­mu­nity, the in­come stream de­rived from rentals, and back­yarders choos­ing to live closer to jobs, schools, ameni­ties or trans­port links.

In this light, it would be mis­taken to think the ob­jec­tive must be to rid the city of back­yard dwellings.

“Peo­ple are very so­cially in­vested in their en­vi­ron­ment and you can­not just pick them up and move them some­where else,” she said.

Van Min­nen added: “Den­si­fi­ca­tion is of­ten con­sid­ered a dirty word. What we know, how­ever, is that all suc­cess­ful cities are dense and com­pact .

“What’s telling about back­yarders is that they have been qui­etly get­ting on and den­si­fy­ing.”

Hous­ing pol­icy needed to be more flex­i­ble, with a much greater em­pha­sis on op­tions avail­able to peo­ple, like many back­yarders, who earned more than R3 000 a month – and there­fore did not qual­ify for an RDP house.

One of the risks in South Africa’s hous­ing de­liv­ery model was that it en­cour­aged a “pas­sive” ap­proach.

This is premised on peo­ple “wait­ing for their house”, and not want­ing to in­crease their in­come “in case it prej­u­dices their chances of get­ting a house”.


Back­yard dweller Mag­da­lene Ben in her home in Eer­ste River.


May­oral com­mit­tee mem­ber for hu­man set­tle­ments Bene­dicta van Min­nen.

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