Social housing proposal for prime Durban north beach site slammed
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DURBAN - A CONTROVERSIAL proposal by the eThekwini Municipality to build social housing on a prime beachfront site has been slammed by a political party and a hospitality organisation, saying the move will impact on tourism and accelerate the flight of businesses to the north of the city.
The site identified for the project is the building called the Star Seaside Children’s Home which is near the Elangeni Hotel. The city wants to partially demolish the building to make way for a proposed social housing project that aims to accommodate residents in need of affordable housing.
The site is among several in the CBD under consideration by the municipality for refurbishment into social housing facilities to make affordable rental accommodation available to households with monthly incomes in the range of R3 500 to R15 000.
The municipality did not provide full details of the housing programme, but said some of the key processes like public participation had been completed.
The Star Seaside Children’s Home, said the municipality, was built in the 1970s and was used as a children’s holiday home for predominantly white children during the school holidays.
The proposed housing development, however, faces criticism, with the DA saying the land in question is prime real estate and the city could derive a lot more economic benefit from it.
The sentiment was shared by economist Professor Bonke Dumisa, who said such a move has the potential to damage even some of the existing tourism businesses in the area.
The social housing plan for the site was mooted a few years ago. At the time, Independent Media reported that there were concerns about the development because the home is in close proximity to high-value residential and commercial properties, and the land is potentially worth tens of millions of rand.
It was also revealed that there were plans to build more than 8 000 housing units in other parts of the city, including uMgeni Road, Albert Park, Warwick bus depot, Block AK west of Gladys Manzi Road, the old Durban Drive-In site and near the table tennis building in Epsom Road.
“The building is in need of repairs and maintenance and has not been in use for a number of years now. It is in a derelict condition and an eyesore and has fallen into a severe state of disrepair,” said municipal spokesperson Msawakhe Mayisela of the Star Seaside home.
“It is a sizeable building and the vacant portion of the land on the eastern side could accommodate a multitude of new multi-storey buildings,” he said.
The site can also accommodate parking and vehicular circulation with ease, depending on the use and town planning requirements, he said.
“There is great potential in this property to develop into Social Rental Housing and provide residential opportunities for low and moderate income households.”
Mayisela said the choice of residence for many low-income families was very limited in South Africa.
“The eThekwini Municipality has undertaken to provide rental accommodation for lower income groups not viably serviced by the social or other housing programmes. To this end, it aims to make rental stock accessible to the lower income market,” he said.
Key parts of the process to commence building had been done, he said, adding that a social housing institution has been appointed. The public participation process is complete and part of the building will be demolished soon while rezoning gets under way.
However, the DA and the Federated Hospitality Association of South Africa (Fedhasa) said building social housing on the prime site was a bad idea.
DA councillor Nicole Graham said the party always advocated for the city to develop housing in areas where people can have opportunities to access work, public transport and services.
“But we don’t agree with the sites selected in North Beach for the simple reason that they are high value sites that the city could use to much better effect, than for a housing development.
“There are other sites that could still achieve the same outcome available nearby. I’d be interested to know what the public participation was, there has been a lot of concern in the areas about the development. There has not been a lot of information available to the public.
“We understand the broad need for housing, I think the positioning of these sites is not the most strategic move for the city,” said Graham.
IFP councillor Mdu Nkosi said the site has been vacant for years despite a promise it would be developed for low-cost housing to assist those living and working in the city.
Nkosi said the challenge with the municipality was that there was a lot of theorising and very little implementation.
Dumisa said while there was a need to build social housing and bring especially black people closer to opportunities, it would not be strategic to build a housing development on the site.
“The land is valuable land that the city could sell for millions, it could build hotels that the city could generate rates from. If there is a premier hotel and next to it is a housing project, who would go to that hotel?”
He said the beachfront area was already struggling to hang on to its clientele. There were business people who come to the CBD to do business but they prefer to stay in areas like uMhlanga, he said.
Brett Tungay, Fedhasa chairperson in KwaZulu-Natal, said while there was a need to balance the need for housing with business, the land in question was a prime site. He said the city could be better served by using it to develop business opportunities and creating employment while building houses further away from the beach.
“If you look at the businesses and the employment they create in that area, it would be foolish to risk that,” he said.