In what has been hailed as a victory for the campaign for affordable housing, the provincial government has released its long-awaited feasibility study, which notes that, at the much talked about Tafelberg site, there would potentially be space for 270 social housing units for families earning between R3 500 and R7 500 a month.
The report has been released by the Department of Public Works, who are calling for public comment on the matter.
The study came after sustained pressure from activist organisation Ndifuna Ukwazi, who last week protested outside the Department of Public Works to demand the release of the report.
However, it has been a bumpy ride to get to this point.
The Western Cape Government had originally sold the site to Phyllis Jowell Jewish Day School for R135 million earlier this year before a High Court decision reversed the sale.
The High Court said the province was obligated to reopen the public participation process of the sale (“Controversial sale of land delayed”, Atlantic Sun, May 19).
On the release of the report, Ndifuna Ukwazi co-director Jared Rossouw said: “This is big news. We knew that affordable housing in Sea Point is necessary and possible. Now we know that it is affordable too. This could be the first affordable rental housing built in the inner city in the past 20 years.”
He said that the report indicated that 270 units would be feasible for mixed income families. The rental would range from R1 000 a month for a studio to R2 300 a month for a two-bedroom unit. “While this is still not affordable for many workers and families, it is cheaper than what is available currently in Sea Point and much more secure. New shops along Main Road will help to subsidise the build, but the apartments will be maintained with rental income. The heritage building will remain and can be used for a school, so everybody wins,” said Mr Rossouw.
In a media release, Ndifuna Ukwazi said the financial model looked like a substantial commitment towards building the first new affordable housing in the inner-city since the end of apartheid. It therefore brings province to the brink of an unprecedented decision: to begin dismantling apartheid spatial design in Cape Town. “We anticipate that this financial model will face objections and dissent from powerful interests in Cape Town,” said Mr Rossouw.
“Ultimately, when the dust settles, this will be a decision that Premier Helen Zille and the provincial cabinet must take. What we need from our government is strong political leadership and determination. This is not just about affordable housing. This is about demonstrating a commitment to transforming our city.”
Mr Rossouw added a decision was expected in January. “The cabinet will need to make a reasonable decision based on the evidence and the law. We intend to work with supporters and professionals to make specific comments on the proposal, but we are also hoping to reach out to residents across Sea Point in the next two months to engage in dialogues, debates and workshops so that everyone understands exactly what is being proposed.”
Malcolm McCarthy, head of the National Association of Social Housing Organisations, said it was a very positive step by the Provincial Government to release the report. “This is a big step in the right direction. It could be the first time in the country that such a well located piece of government land could be used for social housing.”
He said there were several misconceptions about social housing projects. “One of the big ones is Steen Villas in Steenberg. We’ve checked on the property prices in the surrounding neighbourhoods and instead of it decreasing, property prices have actually increased.”
He said another misconception was that these units are similar to RDP houses. “The units will be very well designed and managed by non-profit organisations. The tenants also go through a strict screening process. They have be in a certain income bracket and be willing to pay rent.”
Mr McCarthy, said another common misconception was that social housing projects in the city centre didn’t exist in other parts of the world. “I first got involved in social housing while I was living in London where it is happening. I also recently came back from Los Angeles and San Diego where social housing projects are happening in some of the most expensive parts of the city.”
He said that this could be one of the most important decisions if provincial government approves the proposal. “I believe that if they go ahead with the decision we will be looking back in five years time and saying what was all the fuss about?”
He said that a lot of the people who could benefit from this already work in the area. They will be able to spend less time commuting, more time with their families and therefore be more productive at work.