Belhar Gardens affordable housing development in Cape Town. Picture: SUPPLIED
Belhar Gardens affordable housing development in Cape Town. Picture: SUPPLIED

For almost 400 years Cape Town has been spatially divided into racial groups. Housing development in the postapartheid era has largely sustained racial segregation with ever-increasing housing prices in exclusive luxury developments and the state prioritising delivery of affordable housing on the outskirts of the city.

In this context, access to affordable homes in good locations — close to jobs, hospitals, good public schools and other social amenities — remains an unrealised pipe dream for the majority of the working class. For instance, nurses, police officers, firefighters and government employees, despite playing an essential public role, are forced to live far from work opportunities in areas more prone to gangsterism, poverty and crime.

One intervention to curb this destructive development pattern is called “inclusionary housing”. After years of pressure from civil society, including multiple objections to exclusive developments from Ndifuna Ukwazi, last Friday the Western Cape provincial government released its draft inclusionary housing policy for public comment.

At the same time Cape Town and Stellenbosch are developing inclusionary housing policies. These policies will mandate private developers to provide a fair percentage of affordable homes among market-rate units in their new developments. Planning approval for new developments will depend on compliance with these policies.

These inclusionary housing policies have the potential to integrate communities across race and class divides and be another source of housing delivery for municipalities. With a housing backlog of roughly 365,000 people in Cape Town alone, the overwhelming scale of need has led to a response by the government that is centred on delivering the highest number of houses, at the expense of the quality and location of those homes. Things are only set to get worse as the economic ramifications of the Covid-19 pandemic drive more people into homelessness.

Despite these obvious benefits to society, the province and city have done little to prime the public about “the what, how and when” of inclusionary housing. In the absence of a fuller understanding of inclusionary housing, developers and residents in affluent communities might resist inclusionary housing projects under misguided assumptions of what inclusionary housing is and what it intends to achieve. This could be avoided if politicians do more to build the public consensus needed for this spatial justice tool to land successfully.

To start the process, it is useful to know that inclusionary housing has been successfully used in multiple jurisdictions around the world to create equitable communities and increase the supply of affordable housing. The notion of inclusionary housing emerged in the US in the 1970s and has since spread to parts of Europe and the Global South, including Malaysia, India, Brazil and Colombia.

SA has grappled with adopting a policy since 2004 but for various reasons a policy was never developed. According to Rick Jacobus, an international inclusionary housing expert who has assisted the city with its local policy, it “taps the economic gains from rising real estate values to create affordable housing”.

A just and feasible inclusionary housing policy that is well designed, implemented and monitored provides the potential to achieve a range of objectives:

  • Integrate communities: The affordable units that an inclusionary housing policy will produce have the potential to accommodate low- and moderate-wage workers and households such as teachers, nurses, police officers, firefighters, public sector employees, the elderly and young families. These people play a vital role in society yet are excluded from living close to their work. Access to affordable homes in well-located areas enhances racial and class integration, which has a host of additional social and economic benefits for families and communities, such as access to better schools and hospitals. This type of integration has important symbolic value in a city that continues to be drastically segregated.
  • Create intergenerational opportunities: There are evidently myriad social benefits that result from inclusionary housing, not just for adults but their children too. This makes a positive contribution towards addressing the legacy of apartheid. For example, while their parents have better access to job opportunities in well-located areas, children will have better access to schools. Research shows that children fare better when they grow up in mixed-income communities rather than high-poverty areas. Additionally, their parents will save 40% of household income that is now used on public transport.
  • Harness the creative energy and efficiency of the private market: Generally, the private sector is more efficient at delivering homes than the public sector. Inclusionary housing uses the strength, efficiency and flexibility of the private market to deliver more affordable homes. It works alongside government housing delivery to augment the supply of affordable homes in areas that government housing delivery has failed to reach.
  • Stimulate economic growth: Inclusionary housing is premised on developments going ahead, so that a fair and feasible portion of units can be set aside as affordable homes. This means economic activity continues, with the benefit of job creation, while simultaneously wielding private development as a tool for incremental spatial transformation. In the long term, inclusionary housing also safeguards disposable income for families who save vast amounts on travel expenses. 
  • Encourages sustainable development: Internationally, inclusionary housing policies use a range of developer incentives, like density bonuses, to create denser neighbourhoods in well-located areas which are more inclusive. This supports the City of Cape Town’s transit-orientated development approach and would help tackle the city’s unsustainable urban sprawl. When densification occurs local municipalities spend less on public infrastructure and services, residents spend less on transport and there is a reduction on traffic congestion. Densification also helps to reduce carbon emissions created by commuting and supports the overall resilience and sustainability of the city.

As the public we need to ensure that the full potential of this tool is maximised to advance spatial justice by demanding policies that provide both greater access to land and housing for those who need it the most and well-located housing that stays truly affordable in perpetuity.

One of the major stumbling blocks to the impact of these policies will be who they cater for. To understand who these policies should benefit, part two of this series will unpack the mechanics of inclusionary housing in private developments, such as the number and price/rent of units, who would benefit, resale restrictions and the potential financial impact of inclusionary housing. 

• Cogger is an attorney, and Park-Ross a researcher, at Ndifuna Ukwazi Law Centre. This is the first in a three-part series on inclusionary housing.

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