Dear Premier Helen Zille,
Re: Submission on Stopping the Sale of Tafelberg and redirecting it to Social Housing instead
by Simone Lilienfeld
Resident, Home-owner and Rate-payer of Sea Point.
Qualified City and Regional Planner (MCRP from UCT)
I write this in my personal capacity but also as a qualified city planner, and also after wide consultation with my family and friends who also reside in Sea Point.
I wish to strongly voice my support for cancelling the sale of Tafelberg to a private entity and to pursue its development as social housing for the neighbourhood of Sea Point. I have divided my argument into three parts:
• a legal argument;
• a socio-economic argument; what I have called
• the ‘World Class’ argument;
• and finally, a perspective from me as a resident and home-owner of Sea Point.
The Legal Argument:
Developing Tafelberg for social housing is in accordance with practically every planning and strategic policy from national government down to the municipal level. Some quick excerpts are given below from some of the more obvious examples:
The Development Facilitation Act (DFA) (Act 67 of 1995)
The DFA states that: “Policy, administrative practice and laws should promote efficient and integrated land development in that they promote the integration of the social, economic, institutional and physical aspects of land development” (3:1:a)
In other words, spatial and social integration should be core objectives of land development. The same act also promotes security of tenure – in this context, meaning rental or communal ownership in addition to individual ownership.
Breaking New Ground (2004)
Government is required to facilitate economic and spatial restructuring through negotiating the location of different housing typologies, developing social and economic infrastructure, and promoting densification and integration. It is also required to provide an array of subsidised, rental and bonded housing. Currently, Cape Town is focussing almost exclusively on subsidised RDP housing on the periphery – there has been an dearth of affordable housing projects of any kind within the urban core, and less than a handful of new rental housing projects.
The Western Cape Provincial SDF (PSDF) (2014)
The PSDF – written by Provincial officials and and approved by Provincial cabinet – identifies the exact problem to which Tafelberg, and projects like it, are the answer: “Exclusionary land markets and the continued reality of urban informality pose major challenges for the Province. Continuing segregation and sprawling urban growth will undermine household and municipal financial sustainability, stifling economic growth.” (p.74)
In response, it offers “Support inclusive and sustainable housing” as one of its five settlement policy objectives. However, the following table (from p75), offer the most parsed and comprehensive ‘Why Tafelberg’ argument all on their own.
The City of Cape Town Spatial Development Framework (SDF) 2012
Lastly (as this is an abbreviated list) the Cape Town SDF delivers the following critique against housing delivery in the City since the advent of democracy (it is worth citing in full because again, these are the words of government officials, approved by the full mayoral council):
“The inequitable and inefficient city form of the former apartheid regime is still entrenched in Cape Town. Existing and past growth in Cape Town has been characterised by greenfield, medium- to higher-income residential developments located on the periphery of the city… This kind of development has happened without consideration to socio-economic integration or functionality… The highest concentrations of new subsidised housing have been in peripheral areas… In the Metro Southeast, developments have largely focused on the upgrade and dedensification of informal settlements. Lower-income and subsidised-housing developments have been similarly monofunctional, and generally do not display the qualities of an integrated human settlement. (CoCT SDF 2012:20)
The SDF goes on to prescribe that urban integration be facilitated, land identified for these purposes should be “concentrated in small parcels; be in close proximity to existing economic, social and public transport opportunities; support a mutually beneficial mix of social, residential, recreational, commercial and employment opportunities; and promote a relatively even spread of housing opportunities across the growth corridors and, to the extent that it is possible, within the developed footprint of the city.” (ibid: Table 5.9, my emphasis)
Finally, and admirably, it issues the following policy – again, it could be describing the Tafelberg project specifically:
In conclusion, every policy document of every level of government supports the kind of development that Reclaim the City is advocating for Tafelberg, and opposes the transfer of high-value public land to private interests. This is not just a moot point – when assessing development applications, and by extension decisions of this kind, officials are required by law to determine whether an application is consistent with the CTSDF and PSDF (and of course higher-up acts). If said development is inconsistent, a departure would have to be applied for, again triggering various impact assessments and public participation processes.
The Socio-Economic Argument
There are many very good arguments about why it is beneficial to have people living within a reasonable distance of their work, their schools, and their services and amenities. Tafelberg is extremely well located in terms of all these aspects, as well as being next to one of the most robust public transport lines in the metro. It is thus a prime example of land that should be promoted as much as possible for affordable and social housing. However, I am sure that many other submissions elaborate on these reasons, and while I support all of them I want to touch upon another strong argument for why it is critical to locate social housing within wealthy neighbourhoods.
One of the most significant problems faced by both Cape Town and South Africa is the grinding poverty trap in which such a large proportion of residents and citizens fall. We have grants, we have no-fee-paying schools, we have a host of social programmes – but we are simply not succeeding in breaking out of the poverty trap.
One measure that has been incontrovertibly shown to work, is to move poor families out of very poor neighbourhoods into lower-poverty areas. This simple act improves the life outcomes of children in these families immensely. In fact, “every year spent in a better area during childhood increases college attendance rates and earnings in adulthood, so the gains from moving to a better area are larger for children who are younger at the time of the move.” (Chetty et al, 2015:1)
In addition, such moves are shown to greatly improve the mental health, physical health, and subjective wellbeing of adults as well as family safety. In the US study, it showed that children moved out of low-income neighbourhoods (which in the US are probably far superior to our low-income neighbourhoods – the informal townships of the South-East and the gangster-ridden Cape Flats) before the age of 8, the life-time gain in earnings average out at about a staggering $302,000 (R4,5million) over the course of a lifetime (ibid: 5). That benefit impacts not only the child, its extended family, and its future descendants, but society as a whole. One of the most common gripes of middle-class South Africa is of the inverse relationship between taxpayers and the population of grant-receivers; here, then, is a fix – not a quick fix, it is true, but a proven fix – that can begin to address that problem.
In addition, it should be noted that one of the Province’s key arguments for selling the property is that the cash it generates will enable it to build more housing and provide more services in the urban periphery – but as this study shows, while that may provide shelter for more people it will simply serve to perpetuate the cycle of poverty that is the reality of the Metro South-East, and lead to far higher costs further down the line.
The World Class City Argument
Cape Town loves to tout itself as a ‘World Class City’, and indeed, in many respects it is as close to the developed-world ideal of what a city should be as any South African or even African city. While there are a host of critiques to be levelled at this title, let’s take it for a moment as an unquestionably worthy aspiration and compare ourselves against other ‘world class’ cities. Since arguing about what constitutes a world class city will take too long, let’s set that aside and compare ourselves to cities that are widely acknowledged to be ‘World Class’ – New York, London, Paris, Berlin, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Rome, Hong Kong, Sydney – I could of course go on but this should do for now.
Each and every one of these cities, and most of all the others I didn’t mention – accepts providing affordable housing as a basic part of its mandate. New York, LA, and SF have rent control in addition to various federal and local housing programmes; Chicago has a Rent-Assistance Programme that subsidises housing; London’s new mayor has sworn that 50% of all new development in the city will be affordable housing; Paris has recently announced plans to build 5500 affordable housing units in the city center (the wealthiest part of the city); Rome has an extensive range of city-owned rent-controlled apartments; in Hong Kong, nearly half of the city’s population lives in subsidised public housing that permeates every district of the city; Sydney has a long list of affordable-housing providers which tenants can contact.
The fact is that world-class cities recognise how essential it is that workers have safe, secure living spaces within a reasonable distance of their jobs. The cost to the economy of a 4-6 hour commute is immense. The social (and future economic) cost of children woken up at 4am for a 3-hour commute to be dropped off at daycare or schools near their parents’ jobs, and to spend a similar amount of time on the return journey in the afternoon, is mind-boggling. If we truly want to be a World Class City (again, I am not voicing support for this aim, but it is a stated goal of the current administration) we need to start giving world class housing opportunities to the working classes that keep will our world-class society functioning.
Finally, it is a fact that one of the most common critiques of the current administrations of the Province and the City is that it prefers to act in the interests of wealthier constituents, rather than its poorer constituents. What better refutation to that argument than to act decisively and comprehensively to integrate the city through progressive social housing policies that allows real upwards mobility? By promoting a housing policy that builds inclusive neighbourhoods that broaden the opportunities available to poor and working class people – which is exactly what developing Tafelberg for Social Housing would do – the Western Cape and the City of Cape Town can hold itself up as a shining example, and a viable alternative to the other – failing – development models pursued elsewhere in the country.
A Sea Point Perspective
Finally, I want to make a plea as a Sea Point resident who has lived here for over a decade and is raising a family here. I moved to Sea Point because it was an integrated, multifaceted community of people from all spheres and backgrounds of life. In fact, Sea Point has been this from its very inception: an immigrant community; a cultural melting pot; a springboard for upward mobility and social and economic integration.
Over the last ten years I have observed it become steadily more exclusive as property prices rise beyond the reach of many of its original inhabitants. All new development is luxury development; luxury development often built on the gutted remains of more affordable homes. But I do not want to live in a Sea Point that is a luxury enclave for the wealthy; I do not want to raise my children to only know wealthy children. I want live in a community where there is space for the people who staff the many homes, business, social services and medical facilities in the area, as well as the owners of those homes and businesses. I want my children to go to school with the children of people from all walks of life. If the Province and the City wants to break down that barriers of class and privilege, this is the way that it shall be done – by sharing the resources of highly capitalised communities with the people who need that the most.
This is not a pipe dream; it is possible, right here and right now, for the Province to start building this kind of community. Tafelberg is available, it is ready for development, the preliminary studies have been done – it just requires you, Premier Zille, to make the correct choice, the choice that aligns with all your own policies, the choice that will save us huge amounts of money over the long term and help lift families out of poverty, please follow the example of the world class cities you strive to emulate, please save the Sea Point that Cape Town has known and love for over a century.
Please choose social justice over short term profit.
Chetty, Raj, Nathaniel Hendren, and Lawrence Katz. 2016. “The Effects of Exposure to Better Neighborhoods on Children: New Evidence from the Moving to Opportunity Project.” American Economic Review 106 (4).