The land debate and access to housing rights in South Africa is an emotive issue that has a protracted history. It has a historical nexus with both the practice of releasing strategic state land for short-term financial gains and on the other hand state subsidised programmes to deliver affordable housing, dating back to the early 90’s.

Despite vast state investments in housing and infrastructure, housing and land rights continue to dominate the public discourse. The prevailing trend of protest is an indicator of the citizen’s discontent with the slow pace of realising the housing rights- for instance, 160 protests were reported in Cape Town this year, averaging almost a protest each day. The root cause of the current challenge of accessing affordable housing is attributable to the urban land markets that have failed to work in the interests of the urban poor. The development model continues to favour a market based delivery, where the private sector delivers for the middle and wealthy classes and the state caters for the poor largely on the city periphery where land is cheapest. Developing government subsidy housing on the city periphery has further entrenched poverty mainly because the beneficiaries of these housing units spend an average of 40 per cent of their monthly income on transport related costs to access places of economic opportunities.

Cape Town residents are fortunate to have a recent commitment to develop an Inclusionary Housing Policy by the local administration. This will make a significant contribution towards redressing the spatial injustices that define our city. There are three key issues that we ought to consider as we prepare ourselves to engage in this important policy discussion.

Firstly, it is important to have a good understanding of how the state shapes the nature and functioning of urban land markets through its actions, either in the form of infrastructure investment or land use regulatory provisions, such as zoning. For instance, investments made in the Gautrain increased sectional titles property prices adjacent to the Rosebank station by as much as 200% in five years, while the increases in the surrounding suburbs over that period range from 14% to just under 50%. The City of Cape Town investments in the MyCiti has had similar impacts on surrounding property values. Meanwhile, properties in the poorly resourced Cape Flats have not seen a significant rise in property value over the same period. The lack of public amenities, poor economic opportunities have set many such neighbourhoods across the country in decline. It is important to understand that rising property values cannot simply be attributed to the improvements made by the property owner alone, but more so an outcome of investments made by the state. The bottom line is that any state investment creates value- both for social function and economic value. Practically, this means that any unearned values that the state creates belong to the public.  

Secondly, there is a need for clear rules and guidelines to recover this value. For instance, many cities both in the global north and south have used inclusionary housing as a tool for ‘land value sharing.’ Other tools include the sale of development rights to private developers in order to generate revenue for social and affordable housing. The Development Action Group with support from international and local experts have over the course of the last five months hosted a dialogue series on land value sharing with key thought leaders. Two of the critical issues identified included (i) the urgency for the City to develop certainty on their Inclusionary Housing Policy and (ii) to set guidelines to help determine what is a reasonable and just contribution expected from developers, which is also economically sustainable. This requires careful and considered analysis in framing and shaping one of the most important policies on housing in Cape Town. 

Thirdly, the impediments of inclusion and integration are not just the responsibility of the state. Each sector and segment of society needs to contribute if want to redress the inherent social, economic and spatial injustices that define our city. The number of objections against proposed exclusionary upmarket housing and commercial developments from Claremont to the Cape Town CBD is a testament to the calls from civil society for well-located developments to redress the spatial inequities of our city, through making provisions for inclusionary housing. In many ways, these neighbourhoods need to become test beds for new forms of inclusive development- social and affordable housing with public amenities and facilities that foster social cohesion rather than division. An acceptance needs to permeate from local civics as well as private developers that the socio-economic challenges are vast, and the state cannot do this alone. Fundamental prejudices have to be shed in this process, in particular, NIMBYIsm attitude towards inclusionary housing. Without accepting responsibility for our actions, we will only postulate inclusion, rather than demonstrate it.

The announcement by the City to develop an Inclusionary Housing Policy should be fully embraced. This requires all stakeholders to have an unflinching commitment to engage in a process to collectively design a policy and programme that would contribute towards the socio economic transformation of our city – building an equitable and just society that benefits everyone.

Aditya Kumar is the Executive Director of DAG. Over the last fifteen years, he has worked on post disaster, post conflict and informal settlement upgrading across the world. His practice focuses on inter-sectoral partnerships, strengthening community action and housing policy. Willard Matiashe is a trained Spatial Planner with a broad range of interest and abilities. 

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