Since 2019, the City has been working on its own draft inclusionary housing policy, for which it is in the final stages of completing a feasibility study addressing technical questions raised by private developers and legal experts, Lee Middleton says. Picture: Supplied
Since 2019, the City has been working on its own draft inclusionary housing policy, for which it is in the final stages of completing a feasibility study addressing technical questions raised by private developers and legal experts, Lee Middleton says. Picture: Supplied

Putting Capetonians of all income levels in well-located spaces

By Opinion Time of article published Jun 2, 2021

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by Lee Middleton

For the average Capetonian who happened to notice recent headlines about inclusionary housing (IH) coming to their neighbourhood, the reaction most likely fell somewhere from “inclusionary what?” and “I should probably care about this” to “interesting” and “hope it’s not in my neighbourhood”.

However one may feel, the Western Cape government is asking citizens to weigh in on its draft “policy framework” the document which may finally provide a way to transform talk of spatial transformation into actual affordable housing in areas where prices continued to exclude people like teachers, police officers, or restaurant managers.

IH changes the narrative. It goes from being a situation in which we have segregated housing scattered across the city, to a clearly supported, reinforced idea of putting people of all income levels in well-located spaces – and it gives teeth to that.

“It gives us a way of actually doing that, not just speaking about it,” says Margot Rubin, associate professor in spatial analysis and city planning at Wits University.

IH makes approval for new developments in certain areas conditional on the inclusion of a certain proportion of affordable housing units. It uses the strategic insertion of affordable housing as a means to the larger end of reshaping the spatial and demographic configuration of our cities.

For over 25 years, South Africans have talked about how to undo the legacy of spatial apartheid. And while we commend the state for the millions of houses it has built, we also must acknowledge that most of those homes remain located at the urban periphery where land is cheap.

Meanwhile, the property markets in the areas closest to jobs, good schools, functional transportation and green spaces, have continued to explode. Cape Town house prices increased by an average of 20% a year from 2000 – 2005— making them unaffordable to the majority.

IH then, is a tool to mitigate the direct consequences of the developmental trajectory witnessed over the past two decades. But it is a complex tool, requiring policies and programmes that guide case officers and land-use planners through the legalities and technicalities in compelling private sector developers to build affordable housing.

Fortunately, we have not arrived at this moment unprepared.

Since 2006, the Development Action Group have been analysing the mechanics of how IH has worked in other cities, and how we might best apply it in Cape Town. Since 2008, with the City of Cape Town (CoCT) and other partners, we have been grappling with the hard questions around this mechanism, a process that led to the City developing a concept note on the subject.

In 2018, we facilitated a series of dialogues with the full range of stakeholders—from the Western Cape Property Development Forum to housing activist organisation, Ndifuna Ukwazi, to thrash out the technical aspects of using IH to mitigate against Cape Town’s polarized property market.

In those discussions, the crucial role of the province in giving municipalities a mandate to develop their own IH policies was also highlighted. As such the newly announced policy framework is a milestone.

Since 2019, the CoCT has been working on its own draft IH policy, for which it is in the final stages of completing a feasibility study addressing technical questions raised by private developers and legal experts.

In 2019, the City of Joburg became the first South African municipality to adopt a citywide IH policy. And in 2020, Stellenbosch joined these municipalities leading the way in developing IH policies.

We are on the cusp of a pivotal national moment, but the question is, how will we use this opportunity? Critics will say that IH will ruin the property market and development, that the City lacks the capacity to manage such a complex programme, and that the challenges are not worth the limited number of units IH can produce.

These are all valid hypotheticals. But what is certain is that we will never get anywhere if we don’t start somewhere.

IH is not about the numbers, and it is not a large-scale housing delivery programme. It is a spatial disruptor. It is about testing models and finding ways to bring the private sector in to do its part in helping address the lack of integration blighting our cities.

And so we find ourselves at the beginning of what could be a vital national conversation, but we need to bring that conversation to the ground, and we need to figure out how to best inform people so they can participate meaningfully.

* Lee Middleton writes on behalf of Development Action Group - an NGO with a history working to ensure widespread access to and equitable use of urban land.

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

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