The need to provide low-income or Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP) houses in South Africa to the homeless has never been greater.
Over 2 million people applied for government housing in 1996 and most of them are still waiting to benefit from the government’s housing projects across the country.
Managing the housing lists, according to various experts, has also been a daunting challenge for the provincial government.
Corruption has become widespread, particularly in the granting of low-income housing subsidies, the selection of building contractors and the allocation of completed RDP houses.
Many government officials have also been accused of allocating houses to their relatives, illegal immigrants and members of their political parties.
Some of the RDP houses remain unfinished despite payment to contractors.
These were some of the pertinent issues raised at a seminar in Pretoria of the Gauteng provincial legislature on an investigation into the identification process of housing beneficiaries and the allocation of RDP houses in the province.
Colin Pitso, the chief director for beneficiary management for Gauteng human settlements, said the provincial department was in the process of implementing a Revised Provincial Housing Allocations Policy and Revised Beneficiary Management plan to address the housing backlog in Gauteng.
Gauteng is struggling to reduce the housing backlog, at just over 1.2 million, due to more people relocating to the province for better economic opportunities.
The province is experiencing a housing crisis as a result of immigration and several other contributing factors.
The influx of about 300 000 people each year puts a burden on the department as the 1.2 million people who are seeking housing cannot be catered for within the allocated budget.
The backlog has also been a contributing factor to the high number of people living in informal settlements.
The department classified the housing crisis as both a historical and systematic challenge that could not be resolved timeously, and which had created issues such as the accumulation of accruals, illegal occupations and housing projects, which were abandoned mainly as a result of failed management.
Pitso said the National Housing Needs Register would be the only official database going forward from which prospective beneficiaries would be drawn.
“Once approved, the beneficiaries will be informed about the approval, the area where they will benefit from and the stand number/ erven,” said Pitso.
He said the policy of the Gauteng provincial government was to prioritise people over the age of 60, people with disabilities, military veterans and people who had registered for RDP houses between 1996 and 1999.
Applicants must also be South African citizens or be in possession of a permanent residency permit.
Pitso said all the beneficiary shall meet the qualification criteria as set in the National Housing Code, 2009 Integrated Residential Development Programme.
He said this would be done to ensure that the housing allocation process was done in a fair, equitable and transparent manner.
The chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on COGTA and Human Settlements in the Gauteng Legislature, Kedibone Diale–Tlabela, said municipalities’ role in the development of houses was critical and should be taken into consideration in the rollout of housing projects.
“What is worrying is that the departments are not working together and not advancing the concept of human settlements.
“If you are going to build 10 000 houses, where are you going to build them? In municipalities,” said Diale-Tlabela.
“So participation in IDP processes must also take into consideration the housing development plan of the Department of Human Settlements, be it in the province or municipality to avoid building flats or houses that cannot be occupied because there is no bulk infrastructure, leading to invasion and creation of problems.
“I am concerned that our qualifying beneficiaries continue to remain outside the system. There is no need to work in silos when all our aim is to service that one person in South Africa.”
Petitions Committee Chairperson Ezra Letsoalo said his committee welcomed the development of policy aimed at mitigating against the critical challenges of RDP housing allocation in Gauteng. He said most petitions received by his committee were mainly about RDP applicants on the waiting list since 1996, 1997 and 1998.
Letsoalo said the government must also improve the fight against corruption, maladministration and illegal occupation of RDP houses.
He added that research and development are going to play a pivotal role in ultimately creating lasting solutions to the housing challenges.
“I am of the view that we need policy coordination. This is because we have the politicisation of the implementation of the housing project leading to the scourge of maladministration and corruption.
“We need to find a way of mitigating the system bypass by some officials. If you deal with that decisively, you would get somewhere in terms of applications, waiting lists and allocation of houses,” said Letsoalo.
During the seminar, Zamantungwa Mbeki, a Senior Legal Officer at the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC), called for transparency on the issue of the waiting list and housing allocation.
“Communication also remains a critical issue. We need to communicate with the community about housing projects and the allocation of the RDP houses,” said Mbeki.
“People who have applied for housing cannot view the waiting list to establish where they are in the allocation queue. There’s confusion too as to who bears the onus in providing bulk infrastructure on privately owned land, particularly with long-standing informal settlements, where inconsistent approaches have been adopted throughout the country.”
Mbeki also released the commission’s report on the people who have been waiting for houses since 1996.
Five percent of the 5 238 complaints received by the commission during the 2014/2015 financial year related specifically to the right of access to adequate housing.
The main issue raised by complainants is the lack of transparency regarding the process of housing allocation and state-driven housing plans.
The commission has recommended that the provincial governments must ensure there is sufficient ring-fencing of funding to be allocated to various programmes as intended by the National Department of Housing, and should avoid the conflation of budgets allocated to policies aimed to achieve different outcomes.
The commission also recommends that municipalities should create time-bound action plans detailing the developmental process available and make these easily accessible to communities.
“Communities are entitled to reject state proposals concerning their development and provide alternatives that respond to their daily realities.
“Provincial governments and municipalities are obliged to consult with communities and take cognisance of alternative proposals made, however, the commission recognises that alternative proposals made by communities may not be reasonably practicable in all instances, this notwithstanding provincial governments and municipalities must engage with communities with a view of identifying mutually agreeable solutions,” the SAHRC said in its report presented at the seminar.