Province committed to affordable housing

A response to Ndifuna Ukwazi’s Jared Rossouw

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Graphic of future Conradie Hospital site
Artist’s impression of the future Old Conradie Hospital Development in Pinelands. Source: Western Cape Government.

Jared Rossouw of Ndifuna Ukwazi published an article on GroundUp criticising the province’s approach to housing. Here is a response to Rossouw from Michael Mpofu, Premier Helen Zille’s spokesperson.

Jared Rossouw’s opinion piece (City takes lead on land but Province is left behind, 6 October 2017), is disingenuous and fails to reflect the scope of the Western Cape Government’s work around affordable housing in the province.

As with any complex discussion in government and elsewhere, context is necessary.

In 2014, the provincial government pioneered a project, the Better Living Model which we identified as a Game Changer. A site was identified in Pinelands – an inner city feeder suburb – where the Old Conradie hospital was previously located.

Our calculations showed that this well-located prime piece of land would be suitable for 3,600 residential units as part of a mixed-income, mixed-use development.

The Better Living Model at Conradie will include a mix of affordable housing options to be cross-subsidised by open market properties and retail space. The development will catalyse the upgrade of the surrounding roads infrastructure and public transport, as well as introduce new social services to the neighbouring communities.

At the time of launching the project, neither Rossouw nor his colleagues acknowledged the ground-breaking initiative.

Acknowledging the scale and value of this project does not suit his agenda.

The Conradie project – led by Province and implemented jointly with the City of Cape Town – remains the largest of all affordable housing projects in the inner city vicinity.

Three years later, we are forging ahead and plan to break ground in the coming year.

Earlier this year, Human Settlements Minister Bonginkosi Madikizela also launched the R350 million Belhar CBD development.

This mixed-use high density residential development will create an urban context around nearby education facilities – the University of the Western Cape, Cape Peninsula University of Technology, Northlink College and the provincial government’s Oasis School for children with barriers to learning.

It will include a mix of student accommodation, social rental stock, open market GAP, and bonded properties. It further includes neighbourhood squares, a promenade, an urban green area and a retail centre.

We have already delivered 627 of these units in Phase 1. By early 2018 we would have installed the bulk services, and connected them to the remaining 2,400 units to be implemented in this project.

In all, the current affordable housing pipeline now stands at over 40,000 units worth R3.2 billion, across three types of subsidies – FLISP, Social Rental Housing and Institutional Housing, which cater for different market segments in the affordable housing range.

Rossouw prefers to ignore these facts and instead sets up a series of straw man arguments that suit his preferred narrative.

He sets up a false “choice” between the province’s “affordable housing” strategy and our “economic regeneration” programme, designed in 2009 to maximize the investment and economic-growth potential of key city sites. In fact, these are not mutually exclusive. We must do both – play our role in increasing affordable housing stock, while leveraging state assets to drive economic growth.

In fact, legislation is clear that government’s role in managing state assets, includes, among other things: to advance economic growth including facilitating job creation, while championing the social development objectives of society. In fact, in the absence of jobs, affordable housing becomes unaffordable to the unemployed.

Obviously, government cannot achieve every one of its strategic objectives on every single property it owns.

Instead a site by site determination must be made in the context of its broader plan.

It would be irrational for any government to apply a uniform policy on all properties given the variables of each asset – including its current and potential use, the scale of the property, and many other considerations.

Government has a responsibility to strike a careful balance in the use of limited resources. Which is what we have done even in managing the Tafelberg property.

In that instance we could not achieve the economies of scale required to make the project viable, with the cross-subsidisation required for a property of that value. However, a stone’s throw away, at the former nurses’ home near the Waterfront, there is an opportunity to do so.

Ironically, it seems that Rossouw and his fellow activists are actually determined to prevent us from realizing the potential of this property for affordable housing, because they continue to illegally occupy and vandalise it.

It is a false juxtaposition to compare the City’s recent announcement – which alludes to a proposal of hundreds of units in various parts of the city – to the scale of the Western Cape Government’s work, which is much broader than the Cape metropole.

The Province chairs the steering committee where the City and other municipalities submit social housing projects into the pipeline. You cannot separate the spheres of government from the planning of affordable housing. Many of our flagship projects and broader affordable housing efforts have been on the agenda for some time, as we navigate the complexities of the subsidy regime and cross-subsidisation formulas that underpin successful affordable housing projects.

We are also responsible for working with and facilitating the roll out of other projects in other CBD’s in the province – which is evident in the overall affordable housing pipeline. The approval of 11 restructuring zones in towns across the province, for instance, will unlock valuable affordable housing projects in a diverse range of areas.

However, in order to best serve his narrative, Rossouw has to ignore what we are doing in the broader scheme of things. To isolate a single property is disingenuous and short-sighted. If he was truly committed to reversing apartheid spatial planning, why does he ignore the other work currently underway?

We also note that in all his campaigning relating to affordable housing, not once has Rossouw referred to other properties, owned by national government, which are in well-located areas, and have the potential to dramatically change the affordable housing landscape. The national governments properties are larger and provide greater scope than anything the City or Province owns.

Why does Rossouw and his organisation totally ignore the potential of five well-located mega-properties - Culemborg, Ysterplaat, Wingfield, Youngsfield, and Denel? The city and the province have been requesting transfer of these sites for years, primarily for the purposes of affordable housing.

Is Rossouw’s failure to ever mention this issue perhaps a reflection of his political agenda? Whose interest does it serve to not only deliberately distort the facts around the affordable housing pipeline we are in the process of rolling out while entirely ignoring the inaction of national government in releasing those properties in Cape Town?

We have long maintained our position on this matter and released copious volumes of communication on our plans for the future.

Premier Zille has been clear in the past about her willingness to meet and listen to any suggestions or concerns of how to approach any issue. In fact, she has met with Rossouw and his colleagues on a few occasions, where discussions were open and cordial.

And at every turn we have been upfront that we are committed to redressing the legacy of Apartheid spatial planning, through the provision of well-located affordable housing throughout the province in a rational, prudent and holistic manner.

Views expressed are not necessarily GroundUp’s.

TOPICS:  Government Housing

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