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City housing crisis bubbling, some eThekwini residents may wait up to 60 years for homes

South Africa - Durban - 12 May 2021 - New flats in Kennedy road built for people from the shacks in the area are said to be of poor quality and are already starting to crumble even before beneficiaries moved in Picture: Doctor Ngcobo/African News Agency(ANA)

South Africa - Durban - 12 May 2021 - New flats in Kennedy road built for people from the shacks in the area are said to be of poor quality and are already starting to crumble even before beneficiaries moved in Picture: Doctor Ngcobo/African News Agency(ANA)

Published Jul 22, 2021


DURBAN - IT WILL take 60 years for eThekwini Municipality to deal with the everwidening housing backlog that is fuelling dissatisfaction within communities and exposing the municipality to serious risk.

This is according to a report looking into the threats and risk faced by the municipality. The report found that lack of adequate housing for thousands of residents poses a serious threat for the council.

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The document, presented to executive committee members, is titled “Strategic Risk Profile 2021”. It flags housing among the service delivery challenges that create a risk for the municipality and community dissatisfaction.

The municipality, said the report, has a housing backlog that could take decades to clear. The municipality is faced with a growing number of informal settlements and there are people who have been living in transit camps for close to 10 years.

However, the municipality said it had taken a lot of steps to improve access to housing, or improve living conditions where they have not been able to improve access to housing.

Municipal spokesperson Mandla Nsele said they have seen an increase in extreme weather events which have led to the shifting of budgets to emergency repairs and rebuilding after floods and extreme storms across the city.

The influx of many people looking for better opportunities who end up living on unsuitable land has increased the risk as these families are exposed to flooding.

The report, under the heading “Basic service delivery, creating quality living environment”, states that the city may not be able to meet demands to deliver services to communities, which include housing, transport and road infrastructure, due to spatial transformation, financial and operational constraints.

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These constraints, it said, have been heightened by the pandemic and economic crises, resulting in limited resources for delivery of services and dissatisfaction of communities.

It identified issues that impacted on service delivery, including the city’s budget not always being aligned to priority areas, limited land control, a workforce that lived far from economic hubs, and growing service delivery backlogs. It said these challenges resulted in negative community satisfaction, service delivery protests and reputational damage.

DA councillor Zamani Khuzwayo said they were aware of the report that indicated the city had a housing backlog of between 60 and 100 years.

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“EThekwini Municipality has a backlog of more than 440 000 houses to build.

“However, between 2016 and 2019, they managed to only build an average of 4 000 houses per annum. We know that eThekwini Municipality is faced with an influx of people from outside coming to look for jobs that could be averted by the national government by developing rural areas,” he said.

IFP councillor Mdu Nkosi said it was strange that in the past when the municipality had a smaller budget of R30 billion, it could build more than 15 000 houses, but now, with a budget of R50bn, it can only manage 4 000 houses.

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“The danger is that people are going to turn on the government. We cannot have people living in informal settlements and transit camps for so long. If it rains, they are washed away.

“We also do not have a waiting list that gives people hope that their turn is coming, people are just waiting indefinitely,” he said.

Glen Robbins, a researcher in urban economic development, said the issue of housing was a challenge for all municipalities because of migration.

He said national government had also not prioritised urban development, and as many cities do not have the autonomy to deal with their housing needs, it’s often a partnership between a city, province and national government.

Robbins said the city was poorly governed for a few years, with a large part of its housing budget being used to fix poorly built RDP houses.

“If you are doing that, you are not going forward, you are going backward.”

Nsele, when asked if it would take 60 years to address the backlog, said the unit was dependent on grant funding provided for human settlements programmes, and that was limited to resources available at the national fiscus.

“This therefore is the limitation in terms of the number of housing opportunities that can be constructed,” he said, adding that they have put measures in place to address the backlog.

“Each settlement is upgraded in its location, to minimise disruption to jobs, schools and community cohesion. The qualifying beneficiaries who already live in these settlements are allocated to the houses built in these projects.

“There is a scarcity of well-located land suitable for housing construction. Many settlements are built on steep slopes, on land set aside for environmental purposes, or on floodplains and servitudes.

“The steep topography in eThekwini means that even suitable land is more expensive to develop as retaining walls and other measures to stabilise slopes are costly and not covered by the housing subsidy,” he said.

Nsele said there was constant growth of informal settlements, with new settlements springing up and existing settlements becoming even more dense.