Launch of the Meet the Minister Programme
However, I don't believe that frustration arises only out of the pace of service delivery and, when it comes to my portfolio, the provision of housing opportunities. I believe that a very significant factor in that frustration is the lack of information people have about what the government is doing to address this issue, as well as the challenges we face in doing so. We as government need to improve our communication and engagement with the people we serve.
If people were given more platforms to engage with the government, they may be less inclined to take to the streets and damage property. That is the rationale behind this programme. We need to pre-empt riots over housing and service delivery by giving people more channels with which to engage with me and my department.
Therefore, I will be undertaking a road show to visit communities across the province to share my vision and my goals for addressing the housing needs of the people of our province, and to listen to some of the concerns that people have about the way we are addressing this challenge.
I will also be making myself available to participate in call-in shows on community radio stations across the province, where people will be able to call in and direct questions to me and senior officials in my department. My goal is to give as many people as possible the opportunity to engage with us, and to hear about our plans and programmes to meet their needs.
In addition to these two initiatives, I have asked my department to investigate the feasibility of creating a 'housing helpline' to supplement the excellent work that our help desk staff are doing to assist people who visit our offices in Wale Street. Another innovation the department will be looking into is how we can use cell phone technology to make it efficient and affordable for housing applicants and beneficiaries to get in touch with us.
It is important that people understand what we are trying to achieve and how, but also that they can have their specific questions and problems addressed. This government must listen to its citizens, and it must be responsive to their concerns. I am committed to that, and so is my department.
At the same time, we must be open and honest about the challenges we face in meeting the demand for housing in the Western Cape.
There are two key constraints in this regard.
The first is funding. With the R1.58 billion the province will receive from the national treasury for housing this year, we can build approximately 16 000 housing units and 18 000 serviced sites. But we have a housing backlog that is approaching 500 000 units. At this rate, and if the housing shortage doesn't grow, it will take up to 28 years to eradicate the backlog.
But in reality, the backlog is growing. Between 2001 and 2007, the population of the Western Cape grew by 17%. If we continue to grow on this high trajectory, the backlog will have nearly doubled by 2040 - to 804 000.
The second challenge is the scarcity of housing land, especially in the city of Cape Town - the most popular destination for people migrating to our province. The urban edge is already densely populated, and the city centre is hemmed in by the mountain and the sea. If we continue with the current medium density model, in which one plot takes up 100 square metres, we can build 40 units per hectare. This means we will require 12 500 hectares to eradicate the current backlog - in simpler terms, that's enough space for approximately 16 000 football fields.
So those key constraints sum up the enormity of the challenge we face. The question is, what do we do the meet that challenge?
The first thing we have to do is be honest with ourselves. Our situation is unsustainable. We cannot continue as we are. We have to make some critical choices about the way we deliver housing.
And the most critical choice is this: Do we continue with the current approach of doing a lot for a few people, or do we change our approach and do something for many?
This government favours the latter approach. Much of the dissatisfaction with housing delivery arises from perceived unfairness. A few people get a complete house with services free of change, while hundreds of thousands of others have to wait for years in backyards or informal settlements without even basic services. In the past, I compared this to providing cars - if that was our mandate, we would be giving one person a Rolls Royce instead of giving ten people a Citi Golf.
So, over the coming years, this government is going to prioritise giving people a serviced site over providing top structures. This approach favours those people in the most difficult circumstances - those without access to clean water, sanitation and electricity. These basic services, rather than housing per se, I believe are the key drivers of protest action in the province.
We also know that the lack of services has contributed significantly to the proliferation of backyard dwellers in the Western Cape. Many backyarders endure exploitative relationships with their landlords because it is the only way they can access basic services.
That is why we have made it policy that, going forward, half of the units in a housing project must be allocated to backyarders, instead of the 70:30 ratio that previously discriminated against them.
By prioritising serviced sites over the building of top structures, we will be able to give far more people access to water, electricity and sanitation than we currently do. Once sufficient people have access to basic services, we can then look at the option of rolling out People's Housing Process (PHP) subsidies to enable people to build their own top structures.
This approach will not be popular with everyone, especially those who do not understand the scarcity of resources and the difficult choices that we need to make. But the constraints are a reality, and we need to share those scarce resources among as many people as possible. It makes more sense to provide a lot of people with a serviced site than a few people with a serviced site and a top structure. By choosing this option, we will be able to assist far more people to access basic services, as well as provide security of tenure on their own serviced plot.
This change will not happen overnight. The current year's budget is already committed to projects and remains the same. But in year two - next financial year, we can spend 60 percent of the budget on serviced sites, and only 40 percent on houses. Instead of giving 16 000 people a house on a serviced site, we will be able to give nearly 36 000 people a serviced plot, while a little over 10 000 would receive a top structure. If we increased this split to 80:20 in the third and fourth year, we would be able to provide a further 103 000 odd people with sites.
Another thing we need to do when faced with scarce resources is to be creative. We need to think outside the box. We need to be open to new ideas.
And so, for example, we are beginning to look seriously at the viability of alternatives to brick and mortar that are more cost-effective, more durable, more energy efficient and more environmentally friendly. We have to challenge the stigma around houses not made of bricks and mortar. When people see what can be done with other building materials, I am sure they will be much more open to living in such houses.
A particularly exciting possibility for me is the potential that alternative building methods offer to build higher density developments. So far, I have focussed on only one constraint - that of scarce resources. The other major constraint is availability of land.
As with alternative building methods, there is a stigma in some communities around flats. The stigma and the cost are the two main arguments against building flats on a larger scale than we currently do.
I believe that the stigma around flats, too, can be addressed through proper consumer education and engagement with communities. We need to explain to them that, when land is scarce and costly, choices are limited. And the choice in future cannot be between a house and a flat. It will have to be between a serviced site and a flat - serviced sites in less densely populated peri-urban and rural areas and flats in areas where there is an extremely high demand for housing.
Building upwards for the same or less per-unit cost is a more difficult proposition. But if we can build upwards using alternative, more cost-effective materials to brick and mortar, perhaps we can meet this challenge.
The Provincial Housing Department is beginning to explore the viability of this. We will be asking all companies that can build upwards using cost-effective alternative materials to send us their proposals. The companies with the best proposals will then be invited to build show flats so we can see exactly what can be done.
When I started, I said that this government must be open and honest with the people it serves. I believe I have lived up to that this afternoon. I have been very frank in setting out the challenges we face. And I have been open about what we can do with the limited resources at our disposal.
This 'Meet the Minister' campaign is intended to communicate these views on a much wider scale. I know that our plans will be hard for some people to accept, but I also know that the long term benefits will be worth it.
And a responsible government must be prepared to take decisions that might be unpopular with some in the short term, but that will prove to be right in the long term. I am convinced that the strategy I have outlined today is the best way for us to build sustainable human settlements over time.