Non-profit helps to urbanise townships

With high property prices and limited financing options many residents, particularly in townships, are forced to look for alternative ways to build their homes, and as a result many resort to building shacks.

However, Urban Think Tank Empower (UTTE), a non-profit organisation, aims to provide alternative affordable housing models for shack dwellers.

This comes after the organisation started a project called Empower Shack in 2015, in Site C Khayelitsha.

On Monday October 9, delegates from the organisation and community leaders visited the site where the houses are being built to check on its progress and impact.

The low cost buildings occupy a smaller space than an ordinary shack, creating space for fire breaks and access for emergency services. The dwellings are arranged around a sanitation core, where there are fresh water and toilets.

The denser accommodation means land is used more efficiently and guarantees residents can remain at the same site, keeping community ties intact.

Community members who live in the Empower Shack’s become long-term stakeholders in the project.

The non-profit’s managing director, Delana Finlayson, said they were introduced to this by Ikhayalami and started off doing reblocking and providing access into informal settlements for emergency services.

Ms Finlayson said they started with the idea of doing advanced reblocking which was still mostly informal but with more structured roads.

Then they started building four double-storey shacks and realised they could do even better if they formalised the project so they started using concrete floors and blocks.

Ms Finlayson said the aim of the initiative is to move shack dwellers into new-model houses so that they can have a decent living place.

When they started with the project, she said, the are was very dense with few access points, little alleys and only one communal tap. The area had a few communal toilets, with frequent sewage spills.

Ms Finlayson said they were able to provide residents with running water and electricity and that immediately made a huge difference to their lives.

Recalling how the project started, she said the first two years they engaged the community, to try to understand their needs.

They then started building prototypes inside a Ikhayalami warehouse, followed by one test unit, before building another four units.

After the community saw the prototype houses, she said, they built 73 more units all of which have running water, bathrooms, electricity and are within an area where there is enough space for children to play.

“We had to allow the community to lead us every step of the way because we cannot build houses which they do not want. We created a micro-financing scheme for this project. Originally, we asked residents to contribute 10% of the costs, and that came out of the community engagements. We literally sat with each household to see what kind of income they had, what they could afford and how much they could pay a month?

‘We then worked out payment plans and we got some contributions but we did not get the full 10% from each household, and I think the Covid-19 pandemic had a lot to do with that.

“But we did an informal payment plan and we now know that we need to do it formally because, at the end of the day, we need to be sustainable and these contributions will help us.

“We are currently building a community centre and in total we have spent R50 on this entire project.

“We are also trying to get individual subsidies and we then have foreign funding and that helps a lot and we have contributions from the City of Cape Town. They made the land available even though it was occupied,” she said.

Recalling challenges, she said the City’s administrative process for land use management, applications and building plan approvals, take a lot of time and often delays the project.

As a result, she said they were going to change policies because it’s just too slow and they would not to be able to build the number of houses that are needed if they have to follow this long and complicated process every time.

She said seeing children playing in a safe playground with trees tells her they are doing something right.

She said they are also in process of establishing homeowners’ associations to keep resident accountable for maintenance.

“If you do not paint it, it will not look so good in five years,” she said.

One of the first beneficiaries, Phumezo Ntsibando, said he started living in the area in 1998, where he shared a three-roomed shack with his wife and four children.

In 2005 he lost his eyesight and that is how he got involved in community work. Along the way he joined Ikhayalami, who sent him to Switzerland in 2013 to present his living conditions to potential donors.

“As they say, the rest is history,” he said.

He said before the new houses were built, the area was very dense and prone to fire outbreaks. Every winter homes would flood and there were frequent sewage spills but now things have taken a very a positive turn.

He thanked everyone who made a contribution to improving the lives of the people of his community.