Defend Truth


Build it and they will come: Microdevelopers have potential to solve Cape Town’s housing shortage, but we need state-owned land


Geordin Hill-Lewis is the Mayor of Cape Town.

Microdevelopers are key to helping solve Cape Town’s housing crisis. Fortunately, the city is home to vast tracts of undeveloped land. Unfortunately, most of that land is owned by the national government, which has so far refused to release it for housing development.

Earlier this week I visited several residents of Delft who have recently added a few extra backyard rental units – formal brick structures – to their homes. They are now renting those new rooms out to tenants, which generates additional income for their families and provides a safer living space to their tenants, some of whom previously lived in unsafe informal structures.

These budding property entrepreneurs form part of the growing group of people in Cape Town called “microdevelopers” who are responding to the city’s housing shortage by adding affordable rental units onto existing residential properties – often on the same property where they also live.

While the term “microdevelopers” refers to the local scale at which these Delft residents have invested, this model has big potential to help solve Cape Town’s housing shortage. This is the “massive small” model whereby lots of entrepreneurs undertaking small housing investments adds up to massive change across Cape Town.

Like all entrepreneurs in our city, they are local Capetonian heroes for the way in which they have channelled their capital and skills, and used the market to help the city address the lack of adequate affordable housing. Unleashing the entrepreneurial drive of residents like these will enable Cape Town to solve its housing shortage in a quicker and far more sustainable fashion than any government ever could.

That is why I have pledged that, should the people of Cape Town elect me as their next mayor, I will work tirelessly to unleash the power of community entrepreneurs, like those I visited in Delft, to build thousands of new and affordable homes for the people of Cape Town.

In order to empower microdevelopers, I am committed to reforming the culture in the city administration to support and help these budding entrepreneurs, rather than merely enforcing compliance. In addition to onerous red tape, these housing developers are often held back by a lack of access to financing and a lack of the construction management skills needed to build additional rental units on their properties.

This is something I know about, having previously been a partner in a small property start-up that tried to build more homes for Capetonians. I have first-hand experience of the red tape and hurdles that can be involved in getting even a small project off the ground.

This is simply not sustainable. If we are serious about ensuring that every South African gains access to safe and dignified housing, we must make it easier to build new housing stock.

But we will need land on which to build those new homes. Fortunately, Cape Town is home to vast tracts of undeveloped land. Unfortunately, most of that land is owned by the national government, which has so far refused to release it for housing development.

Nowhere is the obstinance of the national government’s refusal to release state-owned land more glaring than at Acacia Park, a massive 56.8ha plot of land that is currently used to provide housing to politicians rather than to the people of Cape Town.

Acacia Park already contains hundreds of houses and apartments, as well as infrastructure like a school, a swimming pool, sports fields, parks and a community hall. It also has its own train station, is located adjacent to both the N1 and N7 highways and lies within 10km of major shopping and business districts. It is basically a move-in ready, well-located, social housing project.

Except, it’s occupied by members of Parliament.

And there are other, even bigger national government owned sites, including the Culemborg site and the Ysterplaat, Wingsfield and Youngsfield military bases, all lying undeveloped while Cape Town faces an escalating housing crisis.

Instead of empowering the private sector to build homes for Capetonians at Acacia Park, Public Works Minister in the ANC government, Patricia de Lille, recently announced that R88-million would be spent on upgrading accommodation for members of Parliament, most of whom are currently housed at Acacia Park. It is a slap in the face of Capetonians that De Lille and her ANC government colleagues continue to waste money on accommodation for MPs at Acacia Park, when DA-led Cape Town is ready to work with the private sector to develop the site for the benefit of thousands of Capetonians in urgent need of housing.

It is time to face up to the reality that the public sector will simply never be able to build enough houses at the scale required to end homelessness and informality. Only private initiative, typified by the can-do spirit of entrepreneurs like those in Delft, has the power to build new houses at the required scale and affordability.

The fundamental reason why well-located housing is unaffordable to so many people is because there is not enough housing supply on the market. That is why I want to see cranes going up all over vacant pieces of state-owned land, as we turn this city into one big construction site.

To do so, we must urgently embrace private sector development and take the fight to the national government to force them to release the vast tracts of land they own in Cape Town. DM

Geordhin Hill-Lewis is Cape Town mayoral candidate for the Democratic Alliance


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Dennis Bailey says:

    I don’t get it. The DA is the govt in the WC so it needs to do the admin and persuade/ cajoled/ and litigate to get the job done not pop up like a puppet at election time and use the plight of the unhoused to gain votes. The job isn’t done until it’s done. Just do it.

    • Andrew Spiegel says:


    • Karl Sittlinger says:

      You can’t build houses without land, and that land is controlled by national government (so in other words the ANC)…what’s not to get?

      • Colin Johnston says:

        The politicians at local, provincial and national levels could read the book by Karl Kemp called Promised Land which gives details of the massive housing problems everywhere and it definitely will not be solved by small scale developers adding to their houses probably without planning/building permission and merely adding to the problem. It has another name in most areas – it’s called shack farming!

Please peer review 3 community comments before your comment can be posted

Become a Maverick Insider

This could have been a paywall

On another site this would have been a paywall. Maverick Insider keeps our content free for all.

Become an Insider
Elections24 Newsletter Banner

On May 29 2024, South Africans will make their mark in another way.

Get your exclusive, in-depth Election 2024 newsletter curated by Ferial Haffajee delivered straight to your inbox.