City to crunch numbers on backyarder population
Major baseline study planned and will be launched next year
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.