CITY DESIRED BLOG

What Makes A House A Home?
Zung Nguyen
20 August 2015
“The map seeks to present a dynamic portrait of 4 informal settlement dwellers - by showing both how they are constrained by the structure of the social context, but also how they have responded to these constraints with agency and creativity.”

A 15-minute drive from the Cape Town airport is all it takes for visitors to arrive in Khayelitsha, Cape Town’s largest township – where 55% residents live in informal dwellings. Kilometers of colored corrugated metal have been installed on the sides of the highway, shielding passerby’s views of thousands of dilapidated shacks, built organically and so densely on sand that from afar they look as if they had mushroomed from atop one another. More than its use value, the flimsy corrugated fence symbolizes local government’s perception of people’s homes: eyesores that needs to disappear and do not belong in the city’s modern context.

 
That “everyone has the right to have access to adequate housing”
Are words inscribed into South Africa’s constitution in 1996, making it one of only 30 countries in the world to do so. Under law, it is the state’s responsibility to take legislative measures to achieve the progressive realization of this right (UN, 2001). South Africa’s commitment to housing certainly should not be seen as a failure. Between 1994 and 2012, the government constructed three million homes, many of which have been assigned to informal settlement and backyard shack dwellers. Yet the backlog is still growing, and two million families are still waiting for a proper home (Charlton, 2013).
 
Yet RDP housing has not significantly lifted lives for many that have received it
A considerable amount of criticism has been mounted on the current RDP implementation – mainly that the asset provided has not truly been able to help lift people out of poverty:
Unemployment among RDP housing areas remains high and RDP houses are located far away from central economic centers. RDP construction in remote greenfield land is commonly criticized for contributing to urban sprawl and a perpetuating the legacy of spatial Apartheid (Landman & Napier, 2010.

As a result of lack of opportunity, many tenants leave the homes they receive. A random sample done by the Minister of Human Settlements revealed that only 34 percent RDP beneficiaries between 1994 and 2008 are still occupying homes allocated to them. 11% recipients sell the house illegally, and many more simply leave their house vacant to continue living in informal settlements (SERI 2011).
For those who do sell their house, the market value they receive is only around 15,000 rand, roughly 30% of total cost of production – reflecting a loss of value on public investment (News 24, 2011).
 
A large problem with government housing is that its conceptualization – as low rise, single unit, sprawled out, dormitory style has changed very little since even before the Apartheid era. The design and implementation of the homes reflect:
 
— Low density in suburban residential areas. Homes are designed for people commuting into the city for work.

— A home ownership based approach
 
— That functionality is key – and aesthetics secondary. The result is homogenous and standard-issue housing design.

How true are these assumptions? What conceptualization of housing fits with how people live today and what they want for the future?  

Thus, What makes a house a home?
Is the main question I ask when going out to meet with informal settlement residents. This mapping project seeks to explore what makes a good home for people - by looking at what people value and the strategies they use in making a home for themselves. The map seeks to present a dynamic portrait of 4 informal settlement dwellers - by showing both how they are constrained by the structure of the social context, but also how they have responded to these constraints with agency and creativity.

To do so, I conducted 4 in-depth ethnographic interviews and home visits with families living in Delft South (also known as Suburban) and BM section in Khayelitsha. The map presents a small portion of what I found, focusing on the story of four families, and attempts to through that illustrate how people mentally conceptualize ‘home’ and creatively build it in the everyday.

By Zung Nguyen

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