• LOCATION 18 | A Community in Crisis: Gentrification in Woodstock and Salt River

    Interview: Julian Sendin & vacant, state-owned land

    As you walk straight, look to your left. Behind the wall is a vacant piece of land owned by the provincial government, which is currently being used as a carpark. Ndifuna Ukwazi recently published a map indicating that there are at least 45 parcels of vacant, state-owned land like this within a five kilometre radius from Bromwell Street. 15 are owned by the City, and the rest by the Western Cape Provincial Government. They are zoned for residential use, so Ndifuna Ukwazi argues that they are suitable for affordable housing, or at the very least, temporary emergency accommodation.

    When I emailed the City of Cape Town and asked what they are doing to mitigate against evictions, Alderman Ian Neilson, the City’s Executive Deputy Mayor and Mayoral Committee Member for Finance replied and said: “The City is in an unenviable position in that it cannot directly intervene in the private market.”

    But it’s often argued that government decisions, such as the 2013 rezoning overhaul or the National Treasury's Urban Development Zone, encourage gentrification. I talked to Julian Sendin, an urban policy researcher at Ndifuna Ukwazi. He believes the UDZ policy is good in principle, but only if it's mitigated with enough affordable housing projects in the area. He mentions two solutions: cross-subsidisation and using state-owned land and existing properties.

    "So one of the things you could do, to a developer, if he comes in on his building let’s say a massive 500 unit development, is that he includes a certain amount of affordable housing units. Or he makes a contribution, a developer contribution which could be cash for instance which goes into a fund, which then goes into affordable state or private-led affordable housing units in the area, for instance. So that’s definitely one of the things you could do."

    "Another one of the things that must be done, and it’s probably the easiest, and the most basic, is to use state-owned land for affordable housing. In Cape Town, even though land is scarce, there is a hell of a lot of state-owned land from all spheres, from local, provincial, national, and the parastatals as well, like Eskom, PRASA and Transnet. They own a hell of a lot of land, but it’s locked up. So it’s not being used, it’s derelict and when it is being used, it’s normally sold off to the highest bidder. So a government department realises that it’s sitting on a piece of land, which is worth a lot of money, or has subsequently become worth a lot of money over time as land becomes scarcer, and the way they value land is in terms of price, so they don’t take into consideration the social value of that land. Instead they say this piece of land can fetch me a hundred million rand, or as in the Tafelberg scenario, a hundred-and-thirty-five million rand. Let’s get that cash quickly, let’s dispose of this property and almost always that property will be purchased by a developer, who, because he’s a private, for profit developer, he’s not going to develop for the social value, he’s going to develop for almost indefinitely upper-end residential units for commercial or office space. So really one of the most fundamental ways we need to change is the way we value land." (07:15)

    Julian believes that the argument of using the money to pay for low-cost housing elsewhere is flawed. It would cost more to build new infrastructures on the periphery.

    (07:38) "It’s state-owned land, the government doesn’t need to buy it from itself. Government is charged with, and its constitutional duty to run a developmental agenda, and part of that is to create housing. So this idea of land is expensive, therefore it’s not suitable for affordable housing is… really misses the point." (8:00)

    Keep walking straight.

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A Community in Crisis: Gentrification in Woodstock and Salt River