Transitions to Transitional Housing with Conrad Meyer
During our project in Cape Town, we visited townships, an old hospital turned into temporary housing, and also a newly introduced type of transitional housing to facilitate disadvantaged people coming from informal settlements. This transitional housing model was created in cooperation between the City of Cape Town and the non-profit organization Development Action Group (DAG).
Mr. Conrad Meyer, a representative of DAG, gave me the opportunity to sit down with him to discuss this groundbreaking housing development in a city where housing is a massive issue. He is a student of political science and economics, which correspond with his job in DAG in which he started as an intern and has now been working there for almost a year.
The project he is primarily working on is the transitional housing on the Pickwick street, which he gave our group a tour of. It has been open since May this year and accommodates nearly 80 people currently. This project is especially innovative because it is a model of housing which has never been implemented in Cape Town.
What does DAG do? For example with the Pickwick housing, did DAG make the plans and oversee the construction?
No, so Development Action Group is involved in everything associated with the struggle; in the lobbying, and in advocating for this project. It doesn’t get involved in the overall design, it might provide input to whomever like the designer or the consultancy firm or engineering firm that is engaged with the designing, but it doesn’t do the design.
In what way does your work include the city?
Since I started my engagement with the city, as part of the team here and also individually, we are getting along with the two officials we directly work with within the city who are highly competent and understand the importance of these projects, they have a concern for inclusionary and affordable housing in the inner city and they align very well with the objectives of that in those particular areas. We are lucky to have those particular officials.
Can you explain the whole process with developing Pickwick?
In this particular case with Pickwick, essentially it happened that the city said: “Listen, there is a piece of land that you are staying on and belongs to us, and we need to build there and what we need to build there is a quite eternal, it’s a social housing project which will also provide affordable and inclusionary housing for middle class and working class people”.
So, now there was a problem. How do you build on this piece of land? There are people who have lived there for the last 20 years, or even 30 years in some cases. Historically, the city would relocate these people to a very bad place. I’m going to call it a bad place, because the settlement is on the outskirts of the city. It’s basically this process in which the state created townships; zinc structures, minimal basic services, and on an outer city land composed of dunes.
But, in this particular case what made it so monumental is that the city didn’t do that. There were objections from the community for being relocated; they also lobbied on the part of the community to stop that from happening and argued and lobbied for the facility or something like a housing development close to where they originally stayed, and still within the convince of the inner city. So that DAG basically played a strong role at that particular time, in terms of lobbying, advocating with this particular community, which would be relocated to Wolwerivirier and Blikkiesdorp otherwise.
Does the city pay for it?
Yes, particularly in the case of Pickwick the city paid for it, the land belongs to the city, so in the case of social housing project, the state will sell the land to the Social Housing Institute with a discounted value, then build a social housing development there and then under the Social Housing Act of 2008, they are restricted to charge particular rentals, which are affordable for particular income brackets of people. That insures that people falling within particular income range, for social housing rates it is between 1500 and 5000 Rand a month, those people can then stay close to the city, because person earning 1300 Rand a month today in South Africa, it is very difficult to stay in Woodstock, Salt River or Obz, because of the private sector.
So, do you work as an intermediary between the city and the community?
Yes, intermediary, mediator, facilitator, coordinator sometimes.
Does the rent cover everything – water, electricity, 24 hour security, repairs and so on?
No, if they pay 1200/1300 Rand per month. It would cover the operating costs, but on average they pay 400/500 Rand. So the rest has to be subsidised by the City of Cape Town.
Are the residents employed?
Roughly the unemployment rate is higher than the national average for this particular community of people. But it’s getting better now. At the time before relocation, you would find almost from 35% to 40% of the households are unemployed and or reliant on social grants, but quite a few have now gained employment since they moved to Pickwick transitional housing.
Can you tell me more about your upcoming projects?
There is one project on another site which is going to be used for social housing near the Salt River market and under a bridge where people are currently squatting. Those people will also need to be relocated to some facility like they were with Pickwick. Then that site will be cleared and they will build different social housing there. So very soon, we will have to start to numerating people in this community […]. One of our wishes and objectives is to further the social housing agenda. So, we want the social housing to launch further and to include the concerns of the community who are currently staying at those sites as they need to be properly housed somewhere else.
South Africa’s constitution promises housing to all its citizens. Can you explain the dilemmas of this?
The right for housing is real, everyone has a right to housing, of course. […] Free housing is technically for those who can’t actually access the housing market. We eventually get into a point when everybody has a house. A further question for DAG is not only right to a house for everyone, but also poor people should get access to the house in a city […]. So, that’s another discussion on its own, because everybody can get houses, but then you have the same kind of housing, spacial planning and distribution of houses that resembles from apartheid era spacial planning. So, you want inclusionary housing in the city […]. The reason why we have townships is that the state provides the social housing slower than the increasing demand. […]. So, that’s the reason number one, there are some problems within the state around the provisional housing and there are issues around corruption on the list […]. The state is behind not only because it’s providing houses slowly, but also because people are sometimes selling the houses once they get it. As a result informal settlement arise. Informal settlements are primarily city abrogation, results of globalisation, everyone wants to be close to the city, where they can find work, economical opportunities and so on and so on, so people flop.
Should the private developers be more responsible? What would be the ideal role out?
First of all, if you have 100 social housing companies tomorrow, all of them wouldn’t be ready to function, because it all depends on the existing land released for social housing. That’s the first step. Government should say “there is a piece of land, build a social housing there”, and if the government doesn’t do that, there won’t be social housing. But luckily there is a political act for state to do that which is increasingly relating land for social housing.
Number two, we don’t have enough social housing companies in South Africa. We have two or three, that are functioning. They are Communicate, SOHCO and Madulamoho. So, obviously we need more actors to start social housing companies. So that the land that are being released can be social housing developments, because currently we are building social housing is too slowly.
Can you outline other types of government supported housing?
RDP refers to a free housing, which is a different type of housing, stand a loan to own. Social housing you can never own, but can only rent and it’s normally in a form of flats.
There are FLIPS, another intervention by the state, which basically substitutes ownership housing. If, you earn a particular amount of money of up to 2,2000 Rand a month, you can go to government for a FLIPS subsidy and about 22% of your mortgage can be paid by the government. You can own a private house and ask the state to cover 22% of your mortgage.
There is also CRU or City Rental Units, a very old model. They also belong to the city and are also for rentals. It’s the formal rental model.
Then there is this new one Pickwick, which we refer to as a transitional housing. […] There is no policy framework for it. So, that’s still being developed now. So there are actors like DAG and other national social housing organisations, that are pushing it and trying to develop policy.
The Pickwick is an example of community driven, society driven, ideal social housing and the government complied. Obviously the government provided input, because they needed to build the place and so on, and still the buildings belong to them, but in this case was literally initiative by and requested by the community and from partners like DAG. And then we came up with plan of how the rentals will be, how the people will be placed and how to manage it. We basically developed those systems.
What do you think is the most ideal form of social housing?
I’m more interested in this particular form of housing referred to as a transitional housing. It’s affirming; we currently see huge changes in people’s lives, they are adapting quite well, some problems that people had in informal settlements, they are free from them now, because they have a safe space, which is 24 hours security, people have more water, access to kitchens and electricity, basic services and that is right. We can already see transformation happening in people’s lives. People are happier, cleaner, adjust to rules, they start working together inside the facility. There is an escalation of aspirations, people are getting married now. There is a whole bunch of positive things happening just because they have been given a proper place to stay and access to simple things, like water. If that can be done for other people with same profile we can reduce the homelessness in the city and we can make spatial planning of housing developments and were people stay in the city, we can push back against gentrification and we can make the city truly inclusive in the sense that not only rich people are staying in the city. Poor people and working class people can now also stay in the city.
How do you think the situation will look 25 years from now?
Assuming that things will stay the same as they are now and assuming that the rate in which the state provides social housing is the same, we will have more than half of urban residents staying in an informal settlement instead of proper housing; that would be one thing that you would see and probably together with raising crime.
Do you think everyone will have a house eventually?
Yes, if you can pick up a social house agenda, which looks promising at the moment. The land is being released for housing, but that’s the first step, once land is released is the development proposals: the actual development, the whole process that has to proceed, and the construction of the social housing site needs to be in place.It all needs to happen, so there are all kinds of places where you can have a bottle necks, but places like that other organisations and stakeholders are pushing this agenda and there is a realisation in government and social housing is an answer, one of the answers to the increasing social housing crisis in South Africa. So hopefully, the state will put its act together, put up its structure, dig in deals and start to work harder and faster.
(Picture by Southern Suburbs Tatler)