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SAIBPP President says the government needs to team up with the private sector to develop low-cost housing that restores people’s dignity and promotes healthy lives .

With the living conditions of South Africa’s poor and vulnerable communities coming under the spotlight during the Covid pandemic and lockdown, there appears to be an urgency to right these wrongs.

Tholo Makhaola, professional architect and president of the South African Institute for Black Property Professionals (SAIBPP), penned his thoughts on the situation in response to questions from Property360.

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What do you believe the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown can teach us/the government about the delivery of low-cost housing in South Africa in terms of the need for such formal housing and the speed at which it is being rolled out/developed?

I believe the pandemic went a long a long way towards exposing the deficiencies as far the overall supply of low-cost housing is concerned. It is clear that the quality of low-cost housing produced in South Africa does not respond to the complex requirements of habitable spaces that provide basic shelter while also encouraging a healthy quality of life.

The speed at which the government has provided low-cost housing is way below the demand for this housing solution, with several hindrances being evident; some revolving around the government’s procurement practices and some being around the government’s willingness to team up with the private sector to develop “out of the box” design and procurement solutions which could assist in speeding up the delivery of housing.

Do you believe that the pandemic and lockdown have highlighted any changes that need to be made in the design of low-cost, affordable housing and the facilities such property offers?

The need for housing where the design limits disease transmission should be a basic requirement that low-cost housing should be required to fulfil, considering that communities, where low-cost housing is prevalent, are also prone to other diseases such as TB.

The government must also be willing to team up with private sector to explore different methods of delivery of low-cost housing, especially in the Alternative Building Technology (ABT) realm which is proving to be a more favourable solution whose benefits include being cost-effective and time-saving. ABT seems to be an acceptable avenue for the government and this must be applauded.

What are your thoughts on the development of low-cost housing in terms of densification? Do you believe that more or less densification is needed when developing such property?

To date, there has been less emphasis on low-cost housing being a model which can be used to create sustainable communities and more emphasis on the low-cost housing model as a self-contained unit. Recent attempts by the government and private sector to focus on densification of low-cost housing has a lot of merit as this further enables for the ideal environment of mixed uses incorporating “live, work, and play” which SAIBPP advocates.

Given the current Covid-19 pandemic and the considerations of low-cost housing, which also addresses the need to limit disease transmission, densification of low-cost housing would need to be a carefully considered design exercise where local conditions of climate and orientation are taken into consideration. It should not be viewed as the “cookie-cutter” or “one size fits all” approach that is currently adopted. The question of more or less densification should be a balance of carefully considered site-specific design and robust policy convictions of the type of communities we are wanting to create.

We need to appreciate that sustainable, healthy mixed-use and densified low-cost housing environments are a combination of well-thought-out design (urban and architectural) and policy considerations working together.

What other thoughts do you wish to share regarding densification and low-cost housing in South Africa?

SAIBPP is of the opinion that low-cost housing should, at its core, seek to address the restoration of the dignity of black people in South Africa. We feel that it is important to create sustainable townships that are not defined by an economy that is extractive in nature but rather one that seeks to develop and elevate the socio-economic conditions of the community through various devices such as:
◆ The diversification of  economies (ie more mixed uses in townships) and
◆ The creation of greater linkages through reliable mass transit systems.

The way our communities are housed, especially through low-cost housing, should be reflective of these two key principles to allow for appropriate decisions around the design of low-cost housing in specific areas and the required densities involved.

Architect and president of the South African Institute of Black Property Practitioners Tholo Makhaola. Picture: Supplied



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