Edging towards Site and Services

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by Ronald Eglin

Numerous speakers and participants at the National Department of Human Settlements summit in Gauteng from 21-22 September 2017, attended by Ronald Eglin, indicated a growing appetite, both within communities and within government, to seriously consider the promotion of ‘site and services’ as a new approach to human settlement development in South Africa. A resident from Eldorado Park, south of Johannesburg, was quoted by one of the speakers as saying: “just provide us with serviced sites; we will then build houses for ourselves’.

There appears to be a growing realisation within the country that with housing demand sitting at about 2.1 million households (as reflected in governments housing demand data base) and increasing at about 200,000 households per year – and with the housing subsidy quantum now standing around R190,000 per household (including a contribution towards land purchase costs, services installation and the construction of the top structure); we as a country just do not have enough funds to build RDP houses quickly enough to house everyone. Some of the key recommendations emerging from the summit included refocusing on the upgrading of informal settlements, prioritising rental accommodation (especially in well located areas), improving the targeting of housing subsidies to those most in need, widening support for Human Settlements to include more emphasis on finance linked individual subsidies as well as serviced sites, and reviving the Peoples’ Housing Process with an emphasis on appropriate housing and development support to help people help themselves.

Afesis-corplan supports this shift to serviced sites, or what we and others call managed land settlement, but notes that this comes with a need for government to:

(1) relook at how land is made available for human settlement development so that well located land is prioritised for new settlement growth;

(2) find ways to encourage the densification of these site and service and other areas;

(3) expand the range of tenure options available to government and households for how land can be ‘held’; and

(4) partly restructure the role of the Department of Human Settlements from one of building houses to supporting people to build their own houses.

Afesis-corplan predicts that adopting such an incremental settlement approach will not only provide more people with at least basic services and tenure security – restoring their dignity of having a safe and legitimate place to stay; but it will also help towards the creation of more quality living environments.

Afesis-corplan calls on government to speed up the process of consulting on and finalising the new Human Settlements policy and associated legislation so that we as a country minimise the uncertainty associated with any transition period from the past of building RDP houses to one of emphasising informal settlement upgrading and serviced site development (and only top structures for the truly destitute, such as the aged, and disabled). In the short term we call on government to immediately start a series of site and service, development support, rental housing and other pilot projects to demonstrate how this new, more incremental human settlement approach could work.