Cape Town’s battle for spatial justice

There is a disconnect between what the City says and what it does when it comes to housing, development, and urban planning.

| By
Image of a model building
The proposed R14-billion Harbour Arch development on the Foreshore, Cape Town, is set to be completed over the next ten years. Image supplied

There is a disconnect between what the City says and what it does when it comes to housing, development, and urban planning. This lack of alignment is a source of frustration for housing activists calling for social redress, and for developers, who have stated a desire to know what rules they need to abide by in the planning of their projects.

The Five-Year Integrated Development Plan (IDP), adopted in August last year, advocates for a range of progressive development policies, spatial justice among them. The municipality has little option in this matter, as spatial justice is a constitutional imperative, and involves dismantling the apartheid barriers carved into the city’s geography by the previous regime.

In order to do this, the City has to create binding legislation that works to provide citizens greater freedom to choose where they want to live rather than be constrained by an economic model that consigns them to the margins.

The City is even more specific in its Municipal Spatial Development Framework (MSDF), which is a spatial interpretation of the IDP.

“The City is intent on building – in partnership with the private and public sector – a more inclusive, integrated and vibrant city that addresses the legacies of apartheid, rectifies existing imbalances in the distribution of different types of residential development, and avoids the creation of new structural imbalances in the delivery of services. Key to achieving this spatial transformation is transit-oriented development (TOD) and the densification and diversification of land uses,” states the introduction to the MSDF executive summary.

Yet since it was adopted in August last year, the City appears to have failed to uphold this intention, either to “provide assistance to those who need it most”, to “contribute actively” to the development of its social capital, or to be “a caring City”, as spectacularly illustrated by its efforts to evict old people from at least two council-owned houses.

Its failure to use its influence to dismantle apartheid spatial planning was recently apparent when it ignored calls to ensure affordable housing was included in a new R14-billion development on the Foreshore.

Glittering landmark

The Harbour Arch, to be built by Amdec on Christiaan Barnard Street, is a 24-storey mixed use residential development on part of the old Culemborg site with about 2,000 residential units in its six towers.

Following four objections which focused on design specifications such as building height and parking bays, and two objections by housing activist group Ndifuna Ukwazi (NU), calling for the inclusion of an affordable housing component as a means to ensure the development fulfils spatial justice obligations, the Municipal Planning Tribunal (MPT) met on 24 October to hear the objections and make recommendations.

But the call for affordable housing inclusion was largely ignored, says attorney at the NU law centre Jonty Cogger.

Following the MPT’s approval of the Harbour Arch development, NU said the MPT “failed to address important questions of spatial justice and access - particularly concerning how a development like this will perpetuate the exclusion of Cape Town’s residents – black and coloured people”.

NU says this was a missed opportunity “to secure a portion of truly affordable housing units in this landmark development”.

MPT chair Dave Daniels told GroundUp that imposing an affordable housing condition on the development would be “extremely difficult”.

“To impose conditions that would halt a project that would bring R14 billion into the city, I just think would be irrational,” said Daniels.

Amdec spokesperson Nicole Chamberlin said the company would be building 1,000 affordable housing units in Ottery, and expected a rezoning application to be approved by council next year, whereafter development would commence. The Harbour Arch development is expected to break ground this month.

Asked what income range the Ottery affordable housing development would accommodate, Chamberlin said, “Amdec will create good quality housing at reasonable prices.”

Court action

Following two years of campaigning for spatial justice in Cape Town, NU has approached the Western Cape High Court, “as a last resort” according to Cogger.

An initial affidavit was filed at the High Court on 6 September, requesting the City be ordered to review and set aside approval of the Vogue development at 7 Buitengracht Street, which is a 37-storey mixed use development by FWJK developers.

Cogger says in order for the City to adhere to the Spatial Planning and Land Use Management Act (SPLUMA) of 2013, an affordable housing component needs to be included in the plans.

Cogger said the City kept saying it needed policy in order to exercise its powers to compel developers to include affordable housing in their projects. “We are asking the court to declare the City and Municipal Planning Tribunal is empowered to include affordable housing.”

If the court rules in NU’s favour, the City would no longer be able to claim no means to enforce affordable housing in private developments.

However, if the court rules the City is not empowered to enforce an affordable housing component in private developments, NU would then challenge the City’s zoning scheme and the Municipal Planning bylaw on the grounds that it is unconstitutional as it doesn’t give effect to SPLUMA.

“The national law is very clear: spatial justice is a principal that must be applied,” says Cogger.

He said once that is ironed out, the City would have to implement spatial justice in development planning, which “would sort out the systematic uncertainty we have”.

NU’s final affidavit, following receipt of the City’s response, was filed on 29 October.

FWJK’s CEO, David Williams-Jones was reported in the trade publication Construction World, as saying in September that certainty on what was required would enable them to calculate their cost contributions.

“At the moment, we are shooting in the dark and are held ransom with spurious objections,” Williams-Jones was reported as saying.

Council housing stock being sold off

Ensuring affordable housing is included in new development is one mechanism the City is failing to use to further spatial justice. The other is the provision of council housing, particularly in well-situated suburbs.

The recent eviction of 80-year-old Kenneth Blaine, who has been living in a council-owned house in Woodstock since 1976, and an elderly woman in Salt River, who according to Reclaim the City (RTC) activists received a notice her lease will be terminated after she was unable to afford her rent being increased from R243 to R5,500 per month, contradicts the City’s mission statement that it is “a caring City”. The City has threatened litigation against RTC if they do not stop assisting Blaine in resisting his eviction.

With the average household income (taken as the middle of the median range) in Cape Town at R4,775 according to the last census of 2011, against a single room in Woodstock being rented at R5,000 per month and the lowest priced two-bedroom apartment found on Property24 priced at R7,400, the majority of Capetonians cannot afford to live near the city centre. Prices for suburbs such as Mowbray or Observatory are similar, if not more expensive due to the demand for student accommodation.

As a result of the lack of affordable housing, particularly in areas where working class families have lived for generations – such as Woodstock and Salt River – people are being evicted from their homes every day.

Statistics gathered from RTC volunteer court monitors show that over 19 days it monitored in August, 31 eviction cases were heard by the Cape Town Magistrates Court alone, resulting in 11 evictions and 16 postponements. Over 13 days monitored in September, nine eviction cases were heard, resulting in six evictions and three postponements. The Cape Town Magistrates Court’s jurisdiction includes suburbs such as Woodstock, Salt River, and Maitland.

But these evictions are just the tip of the iceberg says former Ndifuna Ukwazi co-director Jared Rossouw, as there are 12 other magistrates courts in the city, plus the High Court, before which eviction cases are heard.

Additionally, many evictions don’t even get to court, says Rossouw, as many people are living with month-to month leases and no security of tenure.

RTC Woodstock chapter leader Deena Bosch said instead of selling off public land, the City should be using it to facilitate affordable housing in well-located areas.

The City’s Open Data Portal reveals the City has been disposing of its properties for at least ten years. A brief analysis of the data shows 25 city-owned residential properties have been auctioned or sold since January 2018, eight of them to businesses. This includes property in well-located areas such as Clifton (sold for R23 million), Camps Bay (sold to business for R7.1 million), Tamboerskloof, Fish Hoek, Somerset West, and Goodwood.

The City is whittling away properties that could be provided at subsidised rentals in order to facilitate access to housing in well-located areas for civil servants such as nurses, teachers, and firefighters.

City of Cape Town spokesperson Luthando Tyhalibongo, answering questions in early October, said the sale of City-owned properties provided “real opportunities to the residents of our City to invest in their own property, or business venture”.

However, the average sale or auction price for the 25 residential properties was R2.1 million, with a third of them going to businesses. This would require far more capital than generally available to a working class citizen.

Tyalibongo stated the land identified for auction or tender was “considered surplus to the requirements of the City’s municipal service provision”.

“The underutilised properties confer no social or economic benefit should it remain undeveloped and all sectors of society should be able to access public land via a transparent disposal mechanism to give ordinary citizens and public benefit organisations the right to own property.”

Regarding the increase in rentals for tenants of council-owned houses, Mayco Member for Economic Opportunities and Asset Management James Vos in an interview with Refilwe Moloto on Cape Talk on 23 October, said before the amalgamation of seven municipalities to form the metropolitan municipality, each municipality had its own leases which were now being replaced with standard lease agreements. The amalgamation occurred in 2000.

Vos said the provisions of the new Municipal Asset Transfer Regulations meant the City was “now obliged to contract viable properties at market-related rentals”.

“My portfolio looks after the City’s assets, and in this case, there are about 275 properties, of which 50 now need to be reviewed where the rental is below R1,000.”

But he also said if the properties were moved to the human settlements department, market related rentals would not be a requirement.

“It doesn’t make sense to have rental stock in my portfolio as I need to apply the law in terms of my portfolio, so that’s what we need to fix,” said Vos.

Housing delivery fails to break apartheid barriers

During the 2017/18 financial year, the City has delivered 969 Breaking New Ground houses (for households earning less than R3,500 per month). Houses built using the provincial Urban Settlements Development Grant came to 851, with various GAP and open market top structures being 89. The Peoples Housing Project, in which beneficiaries are involved in decision making and make a contribution towards the building of their own home, delivered 1,857 top structures in the financial year, bringing the total to 3,766 houses delivered.

The figures for the 2018/19 financial year were: 1,350 Breaking New Ground houses, 1,067 Urban Settlement Development Grant houses, 253 GAP houses, and 1,249 Peoples Housing Project houses, bringing the total of built structures in the financial year to 3,919.

All the Breaking New Ground and provincial grant housing projects are situated far from the city centre and southern suburbs, in places such as Philippi, Atlantis, Heideveld, and Delft. Information provided by the City did not indicate where the GAP housing and PHP housing was provided.

City Mayco Member for Human Settlements Malusi Booi said the housing economy is a complex sphere that needs to be approached with a focus on partnerships and innovation while dealing with great demand and historical legacies of injustice and inequality.

Booi said projects honouring the City’s spatial justice undertaking were the Salt River Market, where according to earlier statements by Mayor Dan Plato, about 216 out of 723 residential units would be set aside for affordable housing development.

Booi noted the sale of vacant land in Pine Road and Dillon Lane, Woodstock, which has been proposed for development by a social housing company. This would create about 240 housing opportunities.

He said rezoning applications for the open land next to Fruit and Veg on Roeland Street and a site in New Market Street were being facilitated. A feasibility analysis for the redevelopment of Woodstock Hospital, currently occupied by about 700 people who have been squeezed out of housing in Woodstock and other suburbs, was also being undertaken.

“There is also much work under way in other urban centres of Cape Town as there is a great demand for affordable housing in other well located urban areas too, not only in central Cape Town,” said Booi.

Cape Town has an overall housing backlog of about 400,000 units, according to numerous reports.

Kretzmann is a freelance reporter who frequently contributes to GroundUp. This article is simultaneously published in Mother City News.

Views expressed are not necessarily GroundUp’s.

TOPICS:  Civil Society Housing Social Housing Series

Next:  How to buy your dream house using public money

Previous:  Land to be freed up in Cape Town city centre

© 2019 GroundUp.
This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

You may republish this article, so long as you credit the authors and GroundUp, and do not change the text. Please include a link back to the original article.