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Brett Herron is the Mayoral Committee Member for Transport and Urban Development City of Cape Town.
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Brett Herron

South African cities continue to reflect the history of apartheid spatial planning. Many people live very far from work opportunities, reliant on relatively expensive transport options to access their places of employment. 

The City of Cape Town’s Transport Development Index (TDI) – the first to be developed in Africa – reveals that 95% of commuters making use of public transport in the city fall within the low- and low- to medium-income groups. The low-income group spend on average R45 out of every R100 (or 45%) of their monthly household income on transport.

The high cost of transport, the long distances that commuters have to travel to get to work, and the poor integration between the different modes of transport is an obvious failure of transportation and spatial planning. These failures entrench economic exclusion and threaten social stability.

Housing options available to low-income earners are often inadequate, located far from employment and transport nodes, and are too few to cater for the great and increasing need for homes arising from rapid urbanisation and urban population growth.

Across South Africa, during just a six-year period, delivery of housing opportunities to the poor declined by one-third: 228 872 homes and services sites were delivered by government in 2008/09, but just 154 129 were provided in 2013/14. National housing policies and programmes, whilst critically important, are declining and clearly inadequate to alleviate the huge demand.

One key way in which affordable housing can be delivered is through the provision of social housing – medium-density, affordable, rental housing made available to qualifying lower-income households. Eligible social housing developments can be at least partially funded through the Department of Human Settlements’ capital funding grants.

However, the subsidies for social housing nor the income band for eligible beneficiaries (currently set for households with a monthly income of between R1 500 and R7 500) have kept track with inflation and the realities of higher living and construction costs. These are constraining people trying to access these housing opportunities as well as the financial viability of constructing such housing developments. 

In the past five years, more than 67% of the City’s budget has been allocated to poorer neighbourhoods, with National Treasury noting that the City was ‘overly generous’ in its provision of basic services. Cape Town is the leading South African city with regard to the provision of electricity, flush toilets and piped water to households (www.statssa.org.za), but it is also this City’s intention to become a major innovator in the provision of housing opportunities to those who need it most.

Additional funding sources and involvement of new partners are required to alleviate the funding shortfalls and to urgently address the dire shortage of housing opportunities.

First of all, the City plans to create additional funding opportunities by leveraging valuable City assets, and secondly, to provide land directly, so that the delivery of social housing can be accelerated. 

The City has, as part of our new Organisational Development and Transformation Plan or ODTP, committed to speeding up the delivery of affordable housing opportunities across Cape Town. The Transport and Urban Development Authority was established on 1 January 2017 to deliver on this commitment.

The TDA combines Transport, Urban Development and some elements of Human Settlement functions into one sphere of control, with an overarching aim to reverse the spatial effects of apartheid and realise a city that is more connected and integrated, with greater access to transport, economic opportunities and affordable and inclusive residential opportunities for Cape Town’s residents. 

A key example of this new integrated approach to urban development is the development of the Foreshore Freeway Precinct. The City is making 6 ha of land available to private developers in order to address both traffic congestion, access and mobility within the Cape Town city centre, and to create affordable housing opportunities.

The proposals are currently under technical review and include up to 4 500 social housing units as part of the development. Areas that have already been identified and prioritised include Bellville CBD, Athlone Power Station and smaller properties across the city.

Social housing contributes to transforming the urban fabric as it promotes integration and densification in close proximity to economic and social amenities. The Mayor’s recent decision to declare the entire City of Cape Town as a restructuring zone pending the approval of the National and Western Cape Government will mean that social housing developments and associated grants will be possible across the city.

Social housing opportunities will be prioritised within and surrounding the central business districts of the city, as well as along main transport routes; in this way we will be creating affordable housing opportunities that are close or easily accessible to employment areas. Shorter and easier commutes are important to alleviate congestion, but are critical for the urban poor who spend on average 45% of their monthly income on transport and incur long commutes to and from the workplace.

The City is also exploring inclusionary housing – this type of housing is where private developers could include a proportion of affordable housing opportunities, which are reserved for lower-income residents. This approach includes the inclusion of rent-controlled apartments – as part of their developments. Increased bulk densities may be one way to incentivise private developers to consider inclusionary housing, as this would allow for the dilution of high land costs. 

The right to adequate housing opportunities speaks to the restoration of dignity of South Africans who still suffer from the legacy of apartheid. Nationally, the delivery of housing to the poor has been declining steadily since 2009, but the City of Cape Town is aiming to buck the trend through leveraging City assets; expanding our existing social housing partnerships; enticing private developers into the affordable housing market and thus assisting us to increase housing delivery; and lobbying National Treasury to increase housing subsidies and qualifying income bands.


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