French Investment a Welcome Shot in the Arm

Janet Semple

DA Member of the Gauteng Provincial Legislature

The infusion of R150m to the Affordable Housing Company from France’s development aid agency is welcome news for the inner city. It also focuses attention on the future of the country’s housing policy.

It is increasingly recognised that resolving South Africa’s housing deficits requires fresh thinking – in particular, moving away from the idea of housing being provided by the state in the form of free-standing units, each on its own plot. This is not a solution that can work in our urban centres. Population pressures from natural growth and in-migration will constantly outstrip the resources available, while driving an ever-growing urban sprawl. What this means in turn is that people are pushed further away from potential job opportunities – usually the reason for urbanisation in the first place.

Revitalising existing assets in the inner cities holds immense potential benefits. It points the way towards the inevitable expansion of housing “upwards” – a trend common throughout all successful urban centres. This is as yet a rather novel idea in South Africa, but one to which we will have to adapt. And it gives poorer folk a home near to where the opportunities are. This holds collateral benefits of improved family and community life.

Perhaps most importantly, this initiative is a demonstration of what enterprising private initiative can do to benefit the poor. It is an avenue of creativity that we should never neglect.

The challenge for government is to ensure that the environment in the inner city – the provision of public transport, the cleanliness and maintenance of the infrastructure, and the safety of the streets – is kept up. This will make for human settlements for all to be proud of!

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