Opinionista Robyn Park-Ross 17 December 2019

Wealthy (mainly white) residents use their wealth, power and privilege to block housing transformation in their areas

In order to build a more inclusive city, it is essential that the people who make decisions on behalf of the public interest are able to balance Not In My Back Yard-ism objections with the needs of all residents of the city they serve.

Just over a month ago, on 10 November 2019, MayCo (Mayoral Committee) Member for Human Settlements Malusi Booi, announced that the City of Cape Town will implement an Inclusionary Housing Policy by 2021. This announcement was welcomed as long overdue by civil society and members of the development industry who have been calling for clarity, transparency and urgency on this since the city approved an Inclusionary Housing Concept Document over a year ago.

But how do the actions of the city measure up to this recent public commitment to inclusionary housing? Just one month after the announcement, in the very first opportunity for the mayor and his Mayoral Committee to make a decision on the fate of a development with inclusionary housing – they made a decision that effectively derailed the inclusionary housing component of the development. To add further confusion, Booi, who made the announcement on the inclusionary housing policy, also sits on the board that made this decision.

Inclusionary housing – the inclusion of affordable housing units within a private, market-rate development – is one of the mechanisms needed to mitigate against Cape Town’s dysfunctional and exclusionary spatial design that maintains and reinforces the racial and class divides created through colonialism and apartheid. This history of dispossession, oppression and forced removals means that the majority of residents living on the periphery who have to travel into the CBD every day are working-class black and coloured people. Added to this, exclusionary land markets keep poor and working-class people out of well-located areas and the provision of state housing on the periphery has done little to dismantle this.

This is why inclusionary housing is such an important mechanism: it aims to produce affordable units while simultaneously fostering spatial race and class inclusion.

This recent decision was on an application by the Berman Brothers Group, together with investors – Hosken Consolidated Investments (HCI) to develop a 60m tall residential building at the intersection of Main Road and Kloof Road in Sea Point. They put forward a proposal to retain 20% of the 140 apartments as “affordable” housing. In effect, 28 new apartments, each between 35m2 to 39m2, to be reserved for rental to households whose monthly income is less than R18,000.

Although this affordable housing component would still be unaffordable to many, it is better than what the market is providing in Sea Point. It could have provided well-located housing for teachers, nurses, police and others who would otherwise struggle to afford to live in the area. It could have set an important precedent for mixed-income mixed-race development on the Atlantic Seaboard and it would not have taken away from the fight for public housing projects in these areas such as the ongoing battle for social housing at Tafelberg.

Ndifuna Ukwazi appealed in an effort to make this inclusionary housing more affordable, ensure it remained affordable in perpetuity and truly advanced access to housing for people who were forcefully removed, displaced, denied or dispossessed of land and housing. At the same time, neighbours from the surrounding areas objected mainly around the height, traffic, privacy, property devaluation and the impact on their views (although the design specifically aimed to minimise this).

As the Appeal Body for the land use application process, the mayor and MayCo have the final say on the application. Echoing concerns of surrounding neighbours on the height, impact to views and appropriateness to the area, they have denied the access to additional rights through rezoning. The financial feasibility of providing inclusionary housing is closely tied to the ability to access additional land use rights. In this case, by deciding not to grant the additional rights, this decision effectively means the building will go ahead as a smaller, exclusionary building with 94 apartments and no affordable housing component. Is this really the best outcome?

Similarly, a development of 197 apartments at Diep River Station on Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (PRASA) land that would have included 30% inclusionary housing has been seriously compromised by a decision of the Appeal Body in September 2019, less than a month before the city’s announcement of their commitment to inclusionary housing. Despite being directly opposite a station, the appeal body has increased the parking requirements which effectively means a loss of 24 of the affordable units. This strange decision has damaged the incredible potential of this project to set the example for more PRASA and other state-owned land to be leveraged for inclusive development.

These two recent decisions raise serious questions around the political commitment to inclusionary housing. Do these political decision-makers realise that the consequences of their decisions around specifics such as additional rights in the Sea Point development, or parking requirements in the Diep River development directly result in the loss of inclusionary housing?

In both cases, these decisions were primarily driven by neighbours objections around the impact on parking, traffic, views and property value. This reflects a phenomenon of NIMBY or Not In My Back Yard-ism experienced in cities around the world. While some of these objections were valid and could be addressed without derailing inclusionary housing, many are used as an excuse to block inclusive change in their neighbourhood. In the case of the Sea Point development, this NIMBY-ism reveals itself more in objections around the area becoming “less secure” and that “sea point will become like Hillbrow in Johannesburg”. One objection says: “Seems like the developer is hoping to encourage the building of a large number of livable units for a lower income group. This will lower the area, which will reduce the value of properties.”

These decisions point to a major barrier to the realisation of dense inclusive development in Cape Town – the weight given to the self-interest of surrounding neighbours in the process of deciding what type of development should go ahead. The way that the process is set up means many well-located areas in Cape Town remain untransformed as wealthy (mainly white) residents use their wealth, power and privilege to block transformation and densification in their areas.

In order to build a more inclusive city, it is essential that the people who make decisions on behalf of the public interest are able to balance NIMBY objections with the needs of all residents of the city they serve. This means looking beyond concerns motivated by self-interest to the broader context of the affordable housing crisis, spatial segregation due to apartheid spatial planning, urban sprawl and impending climate change. This context requires a commitment to radical, inclusive mixed-use intensification and densification, especially across well-located areas such as Sea Point that provide greater access to schools, health care, employment opportunities and more.

What will the next move by the city show about their commitment to this unique tool to addressing the spatial apartheid that we live with every day? DM

Robyn Park-Ross is a researcher at Ndifuna Ukwazi.

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