Cape Town is facing the worst housing affordability crisis in the South Africa. The city needs to take urgent steps to ensure affordable housing in well located areas is protected and expanded.
This can be done by a two pronged approach used in most major cities around the world – regulating the private property market to protect tenants from exploitation and providing subsidised government housing where shortages exist. The Tafelberg site in Sea Point – almost an entire city block – provides a prime opportunity for the latter.
Failure to grasp this opportunity speaks to a broader failure in housing delivery, with two root causes.
Firstly, the city is not delivering at the scale needed to address the backlog. The City of Cape Town says around 373 000 households need improved housing, but only 6 100 houses are provided each year. At this rate the backlog will almost double to 650 000 households in 15 years.
Secondly, houses that are being built are poorly located. Almost all subsidised housing in Cape Town has been built on the outskirts, where land is cheap, far from places of work, social services, recreation and transport nodes. This strategy imposes severe long term fiscal, social and household costs. Furthermore, little to nothing has been done to reverse apartheid racial segregation. An argument can be made that exclusionary market tendencies and an increasing optimism in neo-liberal policies has in fact aggravated the situation.
There is a dire need for more government subsidised housing in well located economic and social centers across the city, but there are practical and historic reasons why Sea Point particularly needs intervention.
Sea Point is a successful mixed use dense neighborhood which is structured along the Sea Point Main Road – an established economic corridor that is only 3km’s away from the Metro’s largest and oldest economic node – the Cape Town CBD. According to the 2015 State of Cape Town Central City Report the CBD alone accounts for 25% of the Metro’s economy and is the place of work for more than 30% of the work force. Sea Point is therefore, a suburb that is part of the inner city and surrounds.
- Sea Point has an active local service industry. Thousands commute there to work long hours as domestic workers, shopkeepers, waiters, nurses and other professions that keep the suburb’s economy and services churning.
- The cost of housing in Sea Point is increasing faster than almost anywhere else in the country. PayProp’s 2014 Rental Index says Sea Point ranks third on its list of the 20 most expensive rental suburbs in South Africa. Rents rose 25 percent in 2014 alone. This is creating a suburb accessible only to the super rich. This is being driven by property being bought for investment or holiday apartments, rather than primary homes. Pam Golding Properties research shows 40 percent of properties sold on the Atlantic Seaboard in 2015’s high selling season were bought by Gautengers. Many are bought by international buyers.
- As a high density suburb bordering the city’s expanding economic nodes like the CBD and the Waterfront, Sea Point is a natural place for people working in these areas to live. Development is needed to cater for demand across income groups.
- Sea Point has excellent public schools, hospitals and other social services and is one of the safest mixed use neighbourhoods in Cape Town.
- Sea Point probably has the highest concentration of public amenities in Cape Town, including beaches, parks, the promenade and swimming pools. This has come at significant expense and should not benefit only the wealthy.
- Sea Point has excellent and affordable access to several public transport systems – particularly important for low-income families without private transport.
- Sea Point was a whites-only area under apartheid but became one of Cape Town’s more integrated neighbourhoods. It is still relatively integrated today, but this is rapidly changing. Intervention is needed to ensure it does not return to being a community where only rich (largely white) households can afford to live. Read here about forced removals which took place in Sea Point in the 1960’s.
Tafelberg could provide homes to more than 200 families, and set housing strategy on a new trajectory. Proposed mega-housing projects like the Conradie Hospital mixed- income development are important, but they are not enough. To address the challenges of scaling up delivery and factoring in location, we need to ensure the state has a plan and timetable to use its significant but finite public land stock to encourage mixed income development across the city. In the absence of such a plan, it is reckless and irrational to sell off precious land parcels to the highest bidder.
The campaign for Tafelberg is symbolic campaign that could set precedent for the use of public land across the city.