For every title deed delayed, dignity is denied

Solly Malatsi says there is a 900 000 unit backlog in granting title deeds, with Limpopo and KZN the worst offenders

DACongress: Addressing the housing crisis in order to empower South Africans and to restore their dignity

29 March 2018

South Africa faces a monumental challenge of trying to meet the demands of everyone in need of and deserving some assistance from the government to secure a decent home for them and their families.  Whether the home is an RDP house in a rural area or a serviced site in an informal settlement, our Constitution positions the state at the centre of providing access to housing. 

As the Democratic Alliance prepares to hold its Federal Congress in April, it is crucial that we engage on this crisis but more importantly, we must present our plan to address this issue. One of the pledges that will be under discussion at the congress is on the status of Human Settlements in our country and this includes a number of positions we would take to in order to give people the dignity of owning their own home.

Section 26 of the Constitution states that: “everyone has the right to have access to adequate housing” and more importantly that “the state must take reasonable legislative and other measures, within its available resources, to achieve the progressive realisation of this right.

From this, it is clear that establishing sustainable human settlements takes more than merely free houses to the poor.  It requires the identification of suitable land for construction of the actual houses.  The quality of those houses must be consistently compatible with the quality assurance standards set by the National Home Builders ‘ Registration Council (NHBRC) in order to ensure they are homes where families can live in dignity instead of the life-threatening structures built by inept contractors. 

It requires the installation of adequate infrastructure for basic services and connectivity to centres of economic opportunities to empower beneficiaries of government housing to live closer to their prospective livelihoods. Furthermore, it requires the state to expedite their full ownership of those houses by transferring title deeds.

One of Department of Human Settlements’ medium term strategic framework (MTSF) targets is to “provide title deeds for all 563 000 new subsidized housing units and eradicate the backlog of the “900 000 title deeds.”

Yet when one analyses current delivery trends by provincial governments to this end, one realizes that achieving both targets is beyond reach.

According to the Department of Human Settlement’s 2016/17 annual report the provinces with the lowest delivery rate for title deeds are Limpopo and Kwa-Zulu Natal, both led by the ANC.

It makes no sense whatsoever why beneficiaries of government housing have to wait for prolonged periods as they currently do to get their title deeds once they have been handed their houses. 

In the age of ground breaking developments in technology and innovation, the DA believes we should move towards an era where beneficiaries must receive their title deeds as soon as they have been handed the keys to their properties.  More so for housing projects in urban areas since title deeds are linked to the land where the properties are.

For every title deed delayed, dignity is denied.  A world of massive economic opportunities that can uplift the lives of poor people remains an unattainable desire.  However, if we were to facilitate the immediate transfer of all outstanding title deeds, we would release valuable assets that would enhance opportunities for sustainable economic activity amongst poor people. To illustrate the magnitude of National Treasury reckons that the country could “…unlock R180 billion of dead assets for poor households”

The cruel reality that the demand for houses grows exponentially on a daily basis as migration intensifies, resulting in mushrooming informal settlements across major cities, enables opportunistic provincial governments to focus on quantities of houses built rather than the creation of liveable communities with all essential amenities.

In a desperate quest to appear to be spending budgets allocated for housing and elevate their delivery targets, many provincial governments and municipalities have resorted to only building houses without ensuring that the accompanying basic services are installed. 

The DA believes that more strict measures must be introduced for housing projects approval to ensure that all nobody suffers the indignity of moving into a new house without water, sanitation, electricity and access to decent public infrastructure.

One of the costly own goals precipitated by corruption is the appointment of inept contractors who build shoddy houses that start crumbling shortly after occupation. To illustrate the magnitude of this, statistics from the National Department of Human Settlements indicate that over R2 billion was spent on fixing structural defects of RDP house between 2012 and 2014. There is no doubt that the figure has increased significantly in subsequent years.

The DA is of the view that simply invoking financial penalties against consistently underperforming contractors for contractual violations isn’t enough to stop poor workmanship in housing projects. We propose the blacklisting of inept contractors for a period of at least 5 years to send a strong message to contractors that the state will not tolerate mediocrity.

One of the ways in which we can create an inclusive property ownership is to remove obstacles that hinder potential first-time buyers, mostly young and black, from affording property. Therefore, to enhance the prospects of creating a new generation of property owners, the DA proposes the total abolition of transfer fees for first time buyers below 35 years on properties valued under R2 million. The abolition of these fees for first time buyers will remove additional costs associated with the purchase of a property that can often determine the affordability of the property or otherwise.

In addition, the state should leverage its rental stock to empower long-term tenants of council properties with ownership. More so, families that have been leasing council units for more than 20 years. 

Furthermore, the DA calls for the amendment of Section 10 of the Housing Act of 1997 to reduce the waiting period for selling a government built housing unit from 8 years to at least two years to diversify the range of options available for beneficiaries of state housing to leverage their houses for economic empowerment.

In conclusion, we are fully aware that informal settlements will continue to rise as more and more people pursue living closer to cities in search of opportunities for better jobs, education and quality of life. In light of this, the 30% portion of the Urban Settlement Development Grant (USDG) dedicated for the upgrading of informal settlements is insufficient to transform the ever-rising number of informal settlements into liveable human settlements. This should be increased to at least 50% of the USDG allocation for metros so that they can have more resources to invest in converting informal settlements into communities with decent infrastructure for basic services and public amenities.

By Solly Malatsi is the DA’s Shadow Minister on Human Settlements, 29 March 2018