A better way

The country’s housing emergency has again been brought into sharp relief, this time by people occupying flats at Communicare’s Goedehoop complex in Brooklyn.

These scenes are all too familiar and will become more so in future as mounting economic pressures – fuelled by the perfect storm of Covid-19 job losses and prolonged government mismanagement and graft – make people increasingly desperate.

It’s all very well for officials to tell people to be patient and put their names on the waiting list, but if you don’t know where your next meal is coming from and the leaky TB incubator you call a home is slowly killing you and your family, then invading a piece of land or occupying a building seems like a good idea.

Of course, land invasions and building hijackings, far from being a solution to the housing crisis, only aggravate it. Millions of rand that could be spent on social housing must be diverted to securing vulnerable tracts of land, battling invasions and then providing services in the disease-ridden slums that mushroom out of the initial invasion.

The state is keen to tell the private sector to play its part in solving the crisis, but what company would invest a cent in social housing if it knows that the houses and flats it builds will be occupied – as the police look on – by people refusing to pay rent?

Solving the housing crisis needs a two-pronged approach: stronger guarantees for property rights (a nice carrot for the state to wave at private enterprise) and an accelerated housing programme, which has concrete targets and oversight and offers generous tax relief to corporate and community partners.