South African Social Housing in a Nutshell

The provision of social housing is one of the most vital of essential human rights.  In South Africa, social housing is being used to address the rebuilding of trust between the government and its people who have endured unequal treatment and poverty for too long.  Political and economic segregation still leave their ugly scars in places throughout the country.

Definition of Social Housing

Like every other county I looked at, social housing in South Africa has its own definition.  “A rental or co-operative housing option for low income persons at a level of scale and built form which requires institutionalized management and which is provided by accredited social housing institutions or in accredited social housing projects in designated restructuring zones. ” See here for research article  The article goes on to define social housing institutions as organizations that house low income people with funds from the government and further defines low income persons broadly as someone who earns less than 7,500 Rand per month (currency).  I would imagine that level has gone up since the writing of the article I am summarizing.

Major Aims:

The social housing system in South Africa does aim to deliver housing to both low income and middle income households.  The goal is to create a healthy social mix and allow for better integration.  It is interesting that this is called out but that the government funding is clearly set up to help almost exclusively low income households.  It is hard for me to believe any type of real social mix can be delivered unless there are funds allocated to making this happen.

Another aim called out is for social housing projects to be self reliant and stable in nature. This is interesting because it is fundamental to understand that the sector of social housing is still in its infancy.  There are new social housing institutions growing from the ground right now.  One of the common themes I keep reading is that social housing organizations need to to build and develop projects slowly and in a manner that guarantees long-term success.  In essence, these developments need to cash-flow and do so for a long period of time.

Rent Calculation:

One must remember that social housing is only one of many forms of affordable housing in South Africa. Rentals are determined as a percentage of gross monthly income of all occupants. The current guidelines are that combined income should be in the range of between R2500 and R7500 per month however this upper limit is increased to R12 200 per month in many places around the country.  Additional factors to income must be looked at including disability, and or assets.  Most social housing agencies can make changes to rent if income changes during tenancy.

I did read that the income based approach is falling out of favor because of the difficulty of auditing.   Of great interest, there is some talk about getting away from income driven plans and moving to a model where the targeting happens more at the unit level.  It sounds a little strange but the lower quality units in lower quality areas would be cheaper and those with lower incomes would self-select.  Another option given would be to develop projects in ways where people would self-select.  An example would be building single bedrooms with shared bathrooms.  Someone with a little more money would not want to live in a unit like this is the reasoning.

Big Picture Strategy:

The Department of Human Settlements (DHS) is focused on the National Development Plan 2030.   The grand vision is to change human settlements and improve spatial economy to create energetic urban spaces. Social housing is of course a main component of this strategy.  By May 2016, the South African Government either developed and or conveyed around 4,3 million houses to residents in the country.  You must remember this is total housing not just social housing from my understanding.  This has helped around 20 million citizens.   DHS plans to develop and deploy up to 1,5 million additional housing units by 2019.  I did not capture how many of these will be social in nature. The hope is that all citizens within the country will have safe, decent and sanitary housing soon.

The building strategy will also look to address issues of segregation.  The housing will be developed in communities that consider spatial, social and financial inequities.  Turning back to the long-term vision, it is clear that housing is a major part of the 2030 Strategy.   Housing the poor was an element of the office’s three-section reaction to the State’s Vision 2030 Strategy.  In South Africa, “Social housing” is a term that depicts the deficit or hole in the market between private units provided by the state and houses conveyed by the private market. The housing gap in South Africa seems to really effect those earning 3500-15,000 South African Rand (currency) per month.  That is not enough to find private housing but too much for state help.  It seems social housing in South Africa is meant to also help the working class like nurses, fire fighters, police officers and similar positions.  The social housing subsidy comes from the Housing Development Finance Program and is managed by the Social Housing Regulatory Authority.

Conclusion and Questions:

I like to keep my blogs to 500-650 words and I am well above that right now.  I am going to stop but leave you with this interesting discrepancy.   The National Association of Social Housing Organizations states they represent around 19 organizations in South Africa with around 100,000 units.  Another organization called The Social Housing Regulatory Authority says that there are around 30 social housing institutions throughout the country but many of them are distressed and not doing well.  Altogether, the Social Housing Regulatory Authority states that there there are around 30,000 units being managed with a few thousand more on the way.  You can find that information here.   If anyone out there in South Africa could shed some light on this that would be helpful.




One thought on “South African Social Housing in a Nutshell

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  1. Hello.

    Interesting piece, In the little time (very little) i have been working in this sector i have picked up on a few things, 1. we have barely scratched the surface in SA in terms of social housing because we are still struggling with the management/leadership of the SHI’s- 2. we are still getting our footing right in terms of implementation both from governments side and SHI, 3. The work that we have done since 1994 is remarkable but we could do more. I am currently doing my research proposal in social housing and if you would like to give me a few pointers please contact me on


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