Backlash after government’s directive to downscale housing delivery amid impact of Covid-19

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Cape Town: The Department of Human Settlements is facing backlash following its instruction to provinces to downscale the delivery of government houses.

Minister Lindiwe Sisulu sent a letter to provinces instructing them to put measures in place to immediately downscale the delivery of government houses due to South Africa’s dire economic situation.

In Cape Town, the City said it would be severely impacted by the department's instructions.

Mayoral committee member for human settlements Malusi Booi said: “There are a number of implications this will cause in the City. Some of the projects that have already been affected by the budget cuts are the Highlands drive In fields it has a cut of more than R17 million, the Macassar Breaking New Ground project where we budgeted R40 million for it there was a huge budget cut of R10 million.

“We have experienced over R400 million in budget cuts and what this translates to is that we would have built more than 3 100 houses and it won’t be achieved.”

He said communities in dire need of services have also suffered due to the Urban Settlement Development Grant (USDG) budget being cut.

“We have a problem with ongoing land invasions in the City where land parcels are invaded and the resources at our disposal is very limited,” said Booi.

Between 2018 and 2020, the City has seen R403m cut from its Human Settlement Development Grant (HSDG) budget, and R155m cut from its USDG budget.

Human Settlements MEC Tertuis Simmers said: “The nation departments directive actually seeks to downscale the delivery of housing projects meaning Provinces will not be able to enter into contractual commitments for government houses as of April 1, 2021 which is around the corner.

The housing projects planned for next year will ultimately be supported with certain criteria firstly whether they prioritize the elderly, military veterans and people living with disabilities. This clearly illustrates an attempt by the national government to centralise decision making going forward,“ said Simmers.

“It not only restricts us but also brings up the issue of expectation management. Many communities have been waiting for years for projects to be completed.”

Sisulu sent out the directive last week, she recently appeared before Parliaments National Council Of Provinces where she made comments about the government revising their housing model.

Sisulu said: “We took time during the lockdown to revise our housing delivery model and we have developed a model where we will be giving land available for them to build their own houses it works out cheaper for us, it gives more responsibility to the people and we are hoping it will be better quality because they will be building it themselves.”

The DA spokesperson for Human Settlements Emma Powell said: “With a title deed backlog of 893 222, provincial and local housing departments will have to deal with the fallout of this decision. Provinces and municipalities have already had to deal with a series of major budget cuts impeding their ability to meet the housing demand.

“This comes at a time when Cape Town is experiencing a significant increase in land invasions across the City which have, in many cases, interrupted its well planned and coordinated human settlements delivery programmes,” Powell said.

Department of Human Settlements spokesperson McIntosh Polela said: “The need for more focused prioritisation and spatial targeting arises out of a number of factors, including increased pressure on the sector arising out of increased urbanisation, and reductions in the funds made available to the department.

“It is common knowledge that government budgets are constrained, and this impacts on the funds available to all provinces.

“Therefore, the recent pronouncements by certain stakeholders that this directive is aimed at micro managing the Provinces and will affect the delivery of houses is therefore unfounded and is dismissed with contempt it deserves.” | Cape Argus

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