Tenure insecurity and incremental housing: a pictorial exploration

I am involved in a project in South Africa to provide support to Planact, an NGO that works directly with poor communities, capacitating them to engage with the government on development issues. In this particular case, Planact is supporting a well-organised community of poor people in Spring Valley, Emalahleni, which is in Mpumalanga province, north east of Johannesburg. The community comprises 600 households, largely poor and unemployed, while some provide manual or domestic labour in the vicinity of the settlement. Households live in generally very poor conditions. Apart from hard-won, periodic water provided by municipal council trucks, there are no other services. More importantly, the community is facing credible threats of eviction from the land they inhabit, which they do not own. The land is partly owned by private individuals and partly by the municipality. Both of these want the community out of the land. Emalahleni Municipality is a small but rapidly growing “secondary city”. The municipal administration insists that the community should be re-located to an alternative mixed use development in another part of the city. Like most re-locations, especially those that are poorly communicated to the community and do not take in situ upgrade sufficiently into consideration, it has been fiercely resisted by the community. The unfolding story on how the community deals with the tenure security issues, and recommendations of the support program is part of the project funded by Urban LandMark together with the Cities Alliance.  In time, documents about this case study will be available on Urban LandMark’s website.

One question that always lingers in tenure security work is “what next.” After the threats of eviction have been resolved (and also while they are still very real), how do households in the community meet their housing needs, and how is this financed? Immediately, I wanted to ascertain whether incremental build and housing microfinance is an option, to at least partly answer this question. Can HMF be a viable option in this context? How can poor communities such as this one, not sure of whether they qualify for government subsidies, and who face challenges of tenure security, house themselves? Currently are there incremental housing efforts ongoing, and, importantly, can HMF work with these to provide housing?

Here is a series of pictures that provides some encouraging evidence of incremental build, even in situations of tenure insecurity. Of course more research is necessary to conclusively determine that HMF is feasible, but on face value the signs are encouraging. A financing mechanism such as HMF to enhance the efforts of self build currently visible would result in a more efficient build process, at a broader scale, and create a better housing product.

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3 responses to “Tenure insecurity and incremental housing: a pictorial exploration

  1. How about approaching the various mines in the area and ask for funding through their Community social responsibility funds(CSI) to finance the labour and building material as well as training costs. Work out a bill of quantities for the construction and get the community trained and involved in the actual construction of Alternative Building Technology (ABT) system. There are many technologies to choose from which workout far cheaper than brick and motar and are a lot stronger and more descent e.g. Finn Builder system, stumble bloc or the ibrick. Alternatively create a few co-operatives of about 5 members each to avoid confusion and chaos of a large group. These few groups can be trained and offer building services to the rest of the community with the mines paying/buying houses for the community. In return every community member can be expected to do some kind of job that helps in the delivery of the units e.g. so many hours assistant labour or in the manufacture of some materials like window frames which can be manufactured as a community project, brick manufacturing assistance, handmade tile manufacturing for the finished houses, paint manufacturing and other materials that can be manufactured at a cheaper rate than buying. Also check with Department of housing settlements if the community can qualify for a housing subsidy once the land issue is settled. The co operatives will get a grant of R300 000 each to get them started and they can continue in these businesses long after the project is completed. These are just my thought, please feel free to ignore them if they do not help in any way.

    1. Connie, these are very helpful comments. In some areas, where communities have some form of representation through an NGO, these kinds of engagements are possible, and indeed underway. The Federation of the Urban Poor, for example, facilitates community level savings and supports communities as they lobby for resources from local players, whether government or the private sector. I’m interested in your thoughts on alternative building technology – so many people push that aside for fear that new methods would be unacceptable to local communities. I’ve seen the iBrick though, and have been quite impressed. Do you think this form of housing would be acceptable to communities waiting for an RDP house? Your last comment on the potential of a cooperative is also interesting – I’m not so familiar with the cooperatives policy. It would be good to hear more.

  2. I have had an opportunity to see the cooperative model you point to outside South Africa. In that case, the cooperative groups were formed to access housing micro finance loans from a lender. The lender deliberately targets such cooperative groups (rather than individuals) to lend to because firstly, there is peer pressure to pay the loans and secondly, the groups assist in ensuring good quality of the house build process. CSR among the big mining houses is great and can work, but only to a limited extent. My main worry has always been sustainability of these initiatives. The subsidy issue is a sticking point in the community, and chances are high that a significant number actually do not qualify for it. I am likewise not very familiar with the technology alternatives to building but it sounds like something worthwhile. A question; how much of the costs of a similar conventionally built house do these technologies shave off? What factors affect the use of the technology ?

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