Accelerating spatial transformation for equality and accessibility

By Kevin Gadd, President of the Cape Institute for Architecture (CIfA)

The urban spatial patterns that we inherited from apartheid, and which persist to this day, contribute to the reproduction of poverty and inequality – and must be fundamentally changed.” – President Cyril Ramaphosa, 22 August 2018

Our global urban population has grown hugely, with close to 70% of us living in cities by 2050, according to United Nations estimates. In South Africa, apartheid spatial planning has left a legacy that still shapes our cities in a way that perpetuates inequalities: most of the poor still live in dormitory townships on the urban periphery, with an increase in wealthier South Africans living behind the walls of gated security estates.

Responding to questions in Parliament on 22 August 2018, President Cyril Ramaphosa said

“It is unacceptable that the working class and poor, who are overwhelmingly black, are located far from work opportunities and amenities. According to Stats SA, more than two-thirds of households in the lowest income group spend 25% of their income on public transport. We must make our cities generators of wealth and productivity. The only way we can do that is make people live much closer to where they work.”

In 2017 Phila Mayisela, Chief Director of Human Settlements in the provincial department said that R48bn was needed to tackle the City’s housing backlog of over 300 000. However, “The City of Cape Town only gets R700m. In fact, this year they [are] only receiving R300m. If you work it out, we will never be able to build enough homes if we don’t follow fairness and equity,” she said.

In August this year, CIfA held its annual Affordable Housing Talk series, with the aim of being part the South African housing crisis conversation, and to raise awareness around how our industry can be part of the housing solution.    

One of the speakers, Robert McGaffin of the Urban Real Estate Research Unit at the University of Cape Town, says that of the estimated 1,2 million households in Cape Town, around 320 000 households are living in overcrowded or informal conditions.

Affordable housing is about providing access to housing for lower-income families who, through lack of funds, cannot access a mortgage.

Central to the problem is the issue of affordability. Surveys suggest that about 80% of Cape Town households earn less than R20 000 per month – equating to a house of about R500 000, or a rental of about R5000 per month. However, McGaffin puts average and median house values in Cape Town at approximately R1.250m and R775 000 respectively.

If we are to take up President Ramaphosa’s challenge of a more inclusionary city, with better opportunities and quality of life for all citizens, it is going to need the joint efforts of private and public institutions, Cape Town communities and spatial practitioners, working together in a synergistic manner.

It is clear that the City’s present ‘inclusionary housing’ policies are not going to solve the above issues: for a development to include lower value units and remain viable, surplus value has to be created elsewhere in the development. The common ratio of ‘20% inclusionary units’ is arbitrary and unlikely to result in lower value units being developed. Looking at the number of developments per year, even a successfully implemented policy would probably only provide a few hundred inclusionary units per year across the city.

For mixed-income housing to be scalable, there must be a shift in mindset and fundamental changes in policy at municipal level. These developments must be carefully planned with the needs of the community in mind, such as good access to infrastructure and services such as affordable schools, clinics, recreational facilities, transport systems and employment opportunities.

We must work towards ensuring that inclusionary housing or mixed-income housing developments attain real social and functional integration.

The Cape Institute for Architecture (CIfA) is the largest regional architecture body in South Africa, with the potential to influence development in the city of Cape Town and the wider region. It is essential that, as a collective of built environment professionals – architects, urban and landscape designers, we continue to engage with the City of Cape Town on these issues.