Housing boost

The Helen Bowden Nurses Home near the V&A Waterfront.

The decision by the Municipal Planning Tribunal (MTC) to approve an application by the provincial government to consolidate and rezone the Somerset precinct at the Waterfront has been hailed as an important milestone for poor and working class people in the struggle for decent affordable housing in Cape Town.

On Tuesday September 4, the MTC approved the development of affordable housing on one of the most valuable state-owned properties in the province. This will allow a minimum of between 650 and 1 050 social housing flats to be built on 10.94 hectares of public land.

The MTC asked the province to maximise the number of social housing flats when they submit their plans.

The co-ordinating committee of the Reclaim the City campaign said the decision was the result of the work of a movement of poor and working class people who had decided to stand together and demand that government uses its best land for people who needed it most – black and coloured people who had been forcefully removed and who had worked for years in the inner city, commuting long hours every day, and who were being evicted and displaced.

“This was not the idea of Helen Zille, her cabinet or anybody at the province. They have had over 20 years to redress spatial apartheid and they have not built one affordable housing unit in the inner city and surrounds,” the statement said.

The committee said the provincial government should stop selling its land and develop a comprehensive plan to build enough affordable housing on all its empty and under-utilised public land in the inner city and surrounds for all poor and working class people.

They said the province could start by committing its smaller parcels of land today and get to building on them.

Ndifuna Ukwazi, which is part of Reclaim the City, said the commitments looked good but numbers could be better.

“They (the province) proposed to consolidate the land into three different areas and develop them in phases with shops, offices, homes and public squares. They have committed to build homes on 60% of the floor area and to reserve 20% for social rental housing. This means that a minimum of 12% of the total floor area of the development will be social housing,” they said.

The organisation said this level of social housing could be expected in a private development on private land, where the land had to be paid for.

“Here, the land is already owned by the province, and they will also be able to access national grants to pay for the social housing. When asked how the province decided on the amount of social housing, their representative said that it was ‘not very scientific’ but was a minimum that could be improved. We call this a thumb-suck,” said the organisation.

Both groups admitted that the project could take at least 12 years and they were concerned that the families occupying the Helen Bowden Nurses Home on the site were facing eviction.

In a statement, premier Helen Zille welcomed the decision, saying the fact that the tribunal had recommended a condition that the province should consider increasing the number of residential units and the number of social housing opportunities that could be accommodated within the overall residential components of each phase, was also welcomed and would form part of feasibility studies, applicable to each release going forward.

“The plan is to develop over 300 affordable housing units on the Helen Bowden Nurses Home portion of the precinct.

“This is just the start. We are committed to maximising affordable housing on the remainder of the precinct, which has been our position from day one. This rezoning approval enables us to do that,” she said.

She said the province intended to apply the Better Living Model in the Somerset precinct. The a model would help to ease the shortage of well-located affordable houses close to employment and economic opportunities in the city by creating affordable, integrated housing opportunities close to the CBD.

When asked where the current occupants fit in the development, Ms Zille’s spokesman, Marcellino Martin, said the illegal occupation should come to an end so that development could begin.

Jenny Mcqueen , the chairwoman of the Green Point Ratepayers’ and Residents’ Association, (GPRRA), said: “As an interested and affected party, the GPRRA were not informed of the MPT – and we don’t have the full facts about what exactly is involved as yet. However, the GPRRA has always been in favour of affordable housing.”