The government subsidy for the top structure for a basic housing unit has soared to R154 000 from R58 000 in 2008-2009. Photo: Timothy Bernard

The government subsidy for the top structure for a basic 40m2 social housing unit has rocketed to R154 000 from only R58 000 in 2008/09, prompting a Human Settlements departmental review.

Human Settlements Minister Lindiwe Sisulu said the current R154 000 subsidy amount was “unacceptably high”.

The minister, in an exclusive interview with Business Report this week, stressed that the government had “never intended to create a dependent people” but wanted to undo the wrongs of the past.

It had wanted to give people a decent home that would be a “starter pack” it hoped recipients would extend by using any resources available to them.

“But we had never intended that it would use up so much [money] because it makes the target of making sure we can actually provide houses to as many people as possible in the shortest space of time so much more unachievable.

“You cannot take a whole chunk of the budget and limit it to a small proportion of people when there are so many who live in abject poverty. It just doesn’t make economic or rational or human rights sense.

“I don’t understand how we have got to the place where we have got to now,” she said.

Sisulu did not know the reason for the sharp increase but stressed it would be discussed at the housing indaba in Pretoria at the end of next month.

South Africa has a backlog of 2.3 million housing units and Sisulu is hoping to convince the National Treasury to agree to the introduction of incentives to encourage the private sector to get more involved in the provision of social housing.

She said the focus in the future would be on mega-projects that would encourage the major construction companies to become involved.

Sisulu admitted her department had not had any success in getting municipalities to first offer any suitable land to the Housing Development Agency (HDA) before selling it, despite a moratorium.

“They have been selling land left, right and centre. But it (the moratorium) is not legally binding because it’s a different sphere of government,” she said.

Sisulu said it did not make sense to municipalities to offer available land to the agency when they had a developer wanting to purchase it.

She said there had also not been any progress in getting municipalities to fast-track the necessary approvals for social housing projects because delays pushed up the cost of housing units and made it unattractive for contractors.

Sisulu blamed “government processes” for this situation but stressed there was no reason why a developer had to wait up to three years.

“It’s ridiculous. But to turn this around we have decided to have a spatial master plan that will be adopted by all of us, with Human Settlements at the centre, so we can then have deadlines, say for the provision of bulk infrastructure.

“What happens is that we get the land and start putting up houses and the services only come later.

“The developer is sitting with houses that are almost complete without the necessary services that would enable them to be handed over to the beneficiaries and then these houses are vandalised,” the minister said.