5 ideas to shape the future of housing in South Africa | FUTURE CAPE TOWN

“South Africa’s housing crisis calls for stakeholders to radically rethink the delivery of housing through deeper collaboration among sectors and communities”

“Co-creating the future of housing South Africa” successfully engaged dialogue among government officials, private sector designers, and NGO leaders in the housing industry to collaboratively form key lessons to move forward South Africa’s housing crisis.

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The urban population in South Africa is growing at an unprecedented rate. Due to this phenomenon, city populations grow while rising housing costs are excluding low-income households from the formal housing markets. Informal settlements and long commutes due to urban sprawl and fragmented cities with asymmetric societies have become a reality. In South Africa, is seems that some of these contemporary challenges raise serious doubts about our capacity to address these issues in a sustainable way.

There is an apparent communication gap between the private sector and the government involved in the current approach to housing delivery and solutions. Housing delivery for the poor is driven by the government subsidy system which allocates RDP housing for beneficiaries who qualify for the subsidy. Through this process, millions of housing units (largely of a poor quality) have been built, but the backlog is growing. The RDP policy addresses only those who earn within a certain threshold and therefore, qualifying them for subsidy housing. The policy however does not address the needs of those who don’t qualify, due to earnings which are higher than the subsidy criteria. South Africa’s housing crisis calls for stakeholders to radically rethink the delivery of housing through deeper collaboration among sectors and communities. Read more about

informal settlement, kuku town

Informal settlement in Kuku Town, Cape Town.

At the event, ‘Co-creating the future of housing in South Africa’, the main questions considered were: What are the practical solutions to provide affordable housing? What does low-cost housing look like? Can we create a platform for the private sector and the government to engage and collaborate in a way that can ensure more successful affordable housing options? The forum provided a way to assess the role professionals and academics who can play in finding applicable solutions to the housing crisis facing our country. Here are the core five ideas our team gathered from this event that can drive housing solutions forward in the wake of South Africa’s housing crisis :

1.    Scale back regulations for small scale developments

Currently, inefficient decision making and policies within the public sector hinder the timelines and incentives for all developments. The lengthy process is especially burdening for smaller projects (with fewer resources) as it is far less feasible and cost-effective to deal with the amount of red tape. Smaller scale projects have the potential to propel real change through solutions (often at a grassroots level), rather than the traditional centralised model for zoning and top-bottom power. In addition, with projects at a smaller scale there should be fewer time limitations or barriers – meaning there should be processes in place that enable smaller scale projects to be processed quicker to allow for cost-effective development and more importantly, faster-learning.



2.    A more widespread focus on informal settlement upgrades

In addition to exercising new housing models, more resources and greater recognition needs to be put forward on building capacity within informal settlements to empower communities to make more of their own improvements in collaboration with different parties. This approach is fundamental as it allows more integrated and socially adjusted solutions to communities, while also resources for improvements to be more immediate and distributed more widely. Read more about informal settlement upgrading here.

reblockingsizweSizwe planning a reblocked layout in Mtshini Wam informal settlement, Milnerton.

@futurecapetown #futurehousingZA – housing for the poor? We first need to learn the models of change the poor are already using – #experts — Ubuhle Bakha Ubuhle (@UBUtweets) March 15, 2016


3.    More community involvement

Communication and feedback from the community at hand must be central to identifying problems and designing solutions, while designers and other experts must act more as facilitators to the solution. The sterilised, top-down, developer-led, master-planned communities that we are currently creating have proved to be an ineffective method of delivery. Incremental development to complaint zoning is an approach which would involve relaxing the myriad zoning, subdivision and other regulations which stifle the supply side of the built environment.

empower shack

Empower shack developments in Khayelitsha.

“We need to have various options, with diverse products for diverse communities, with an ad hoc approach” – Zama Mgwatyu, Development Action Group “We have to transfer the power of making the city to citizens themselves!”- Alfredo Brillembourg, U-TT


4.   Tender process: more collaboration from sector experts

The process of tendering should ensure to include architects and urban design experts when judging for the winning tenders so that housing delivery models remain competitive as well as suited for the demand of the project.

“It is important that professionals are involved at conceptual stages so that they can be involved in decisions around land-use, sustainable development models and advise on a multi-disciplinary approach to such developments. In my opinion, without such an inclusive approach, it will be difficult to produce the kind of integrated and sustainable settlements our communities deserve.” – Luyanda Mpahlwa, DesignSpaceAfrica

empower shack. utt

Empower shack developments in Khayelitsha.


5.    Stakeholders need to move towards a common language in the housing sector

Stakeholders need to broaden our focus and dare to translate each other’s language of finance, development, engineering, and designing, government, NGO’s and the community at hand to develop and achieve a holistic goal. Stakeholders can strengthen their ability through weaving together their diverse expertise and experiences. “We are all are too focused on either design, either statutory processes, either legislation, either finance, either engineering, either, either, either…it’s silent but it’s the willingness to speak different languages” -Deon van Zyl, Chairman of the WC Property Development Forum.


Co-create the future of housing with us : 

  • email us your ideas at
  • post your thoughts on social media with the tag : #futurehousingZA

Read more about the future of housing : 

Image credits :

  1. Feature image : Future Cape Town
  2. Images 1 & 2 : SDI South African Alliance 
  3. Image 3 & 4 : Urban-Think Tank
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Elizabeth was born and raised in Vancouver. Graduating high school in 2010, she moved to Prague to complete her bachelor in International Relations. In 2014, she traded the European city life for an 8 month municipal internship in rural Alberta where she developed an interest in urban planning and design.