House or home?

Cape Town aims to reduce the housing backlog

Seth Maqetuka
Seth Maqetuka.jpg
Considering the country, province and the city’s huge housing backlogs, it is proving by far easier offering a home for all than to provide housing for all.

It is against this background that a protocol agreement signed between the Western Cape and the City of Cape Town has been hailed by Alderman Patricia de Lille, executive mayor, as “a very significant document for future management of housing delivery”.

The agreement, summarised, transfers some responsibilities from the Province to the City, a step that is aimed at cutting red tape and speed up delivery of housing. Hence the mayor also said: “It will help the City to fasten projects, shifting the focus to medium and high density housing projects, informal settlements upgrading and the backyarders program.”

Amidst all the excitement there is also signs of warning as articulated by Seth Maqetuka, the City’s Executive Director for Human Settlements: “Housing being socially and politically influenced, as you can see from the (country wide service delivery) protests, we will now be more exposed to the communities.”

In other words, the city will be constantly scrutinised on its delivery of housing promises – and no more will it be able to shift the blame solely to the Province or national government if questions are asked by the (at the time of writing) almost 400 000 poor Cape Town residents waiting to receive a house.

Still, there remains much to look forward to, particularly where it concerns skills development and employment opportunities, albeit indirectly in some cases.

Maqetuka explains: “If we are taking over the responsibility (for housing delivery) from the Province you must ask: What are these programmes? It includes the people’s housing projects and the approval of applications for housing subsidies or grants – and all of this comes with capacity requirements, such as project management.”

The city will therefore have to provide its existing staff with additional training, he says, and at the same time, draw in more skills where it is needed. Furthermore, the processing of applications for subsidies requires certain IT skills to enable staff to master the housing subsidy system.

“Remember, also, that before we can approve any project it needs monitoring and evaluation, so naturally we will need those kinds of skills,” says Maqetuka. “Obviously, we’ll also need more financial capacity – we do have, of course, but we’ll need more now that we’ve taken on this new responsibility."

The urban settlement development grants, used for the provision of municipal infrastructure, also require engineers and other technically skilled people, such as town planners. Of course, once the actual construction phases of new housing developments start it ultimately means more work for artisans, be they bricklayers, plumbers or carpenters.

Maqetuka : “We will not be able to provide housing for all in one go or overnight. It’s gonna take time.” With an annual budget of about R650 million for the top structure of houses, including payment for the construction work and material, and about R900 million for infrastructure, including land, water, sanitation, roads and social amenities (for example, halls, crèches and parks) you can only deliver between 8 000 and 8 500 so-called “housing opportunities”.

The challenge of delivering housing must therefore be extended beyond building new houses. In Cape Town’s case it also includes the upgrading of informal settlements - home to large numbers of people waiting for proper houses - by providing access to infrastructure and facilities; and to keep them safe from flooding and fires, says Maqetuka.
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Issue 58