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Our housing dilemma: What ideas are there that could expedite building interim and long-term homes?

Contract workers are finalising some of the state subsidised houses. File Picture: Henk Kruger/African News Agency (ANA)

Contract workers are finalising some of the state subsidised houses. File Picture: Henk Kruger/African News Agency (ANA)

Published Jul 5, 2022


It is winter and significant parts of Cape Town’s poorest neighbourhoods and informal settlements are waterlogged.

It happens every year and has done so for decades. In summer they will be subject to fire risks. Imagine losing your entire livelihood every six months of the year and having to start rebuilding your life all over every time.

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There are 12.5 million people without housing in South Africa.

At an occupancy rate of 5 people per home, that equates to about 2.1 million homes that must be built to meet this housing shortfall. The national government states that it may only be able to build 1.5 million homes by 2030.

That means that by 2030 only 7.5 million people, as of today’s date, will have homes. The remaining 4.5 million people will still be without housing. Add to that a further 6% population growth and the current 12.5 million houseless community will have risen to 13.2 million people in South Africa.

That implies that by 2030 if the government meets its housing target of 1.5 million homes built, 5.7 million people will still be without homes.

Extracting ourselves from the comfort of statistics for a moment, a question arises: Where does the state expect the current 12.5 million houseless people to live?

If you are without a house and your prospects of getting one within the next eight years are at a stretch, where exactly are you expected to live in the interim? What do you do when your kids are graduating from high school, you need stable employment and you want a better life?

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My question to the government is: What inclusive, co-created interim ideas are there – locally and globally – that could expedite building interim and long-term homes for people?

What alternatives are there to providing houseless people with interim affordable structures to support their livelihoods?

What might come as a surprise to many is that poor, houseless people have the same dreams and desires as everybody else – a better life. They want it for their children. Houselessness should not be a crime in South Africa.

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What is tragic is that 12 million houseless people have no alternative temporary accommodation plans offered to them by the state until their housing needs can be addressed.

For example, instead of reacting to land invasions, why are we not allocating temporary land or buildings close to schools and other amenities and employment to such families?

Another factor to consider is why is the state not proactive during the process of land invasions to thwart it by ensuring that decent plot sizes are laid out, access routes for emergency vehicles are secured and basic sanitation is provided for?

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As far back as 2016, then deputy mayor Ian Neilson stated in an election debate that the City owns 24 000 parcels of land but fears land invasions. The national government probably owns in excess of that.

How can our leaders cower in fear of land invasions when it’s happening all around us? The true issue is to get ahead of it and on top of it.

We are not going to solve the housing crisis by being political dwarfs and covert bureaucrats. Everyone knows that every day people are scouting for vacant land to settle themselves on.

We need a government that has outlined a strategy that clearly shows where land and buildings are available for temporary relocation close to transport, schools and amenities.

And not the “28km out of Cape Town TRAs” which no one wants to move to. These persons are not visitors, they are South African residents, part of the 12 million who will need housing over the next eight years.

It is distressing to read of flooded neighbourhoods year after year, or hundreds of burnt-down informal settlements each summer. Add to that the list of dead children and loved ones. It’s a tragedy that we should not be faced with. We can do better.

* Lorenzo A Davids.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

Cape Argus

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