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A review of Urban Low-Cost Housing Projects in South Africa through a Sustainability Lens

A review of Urban Low-Cost Housing Projects in South Africa through a Sustainability Lens
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  Mahomed Proceedings: Strategies for a Sustainable Built Environment, Pretoria, 23-25 August 2000  1 A REVIEW OF URBAN LOW COST HOUSING PROJECTS IN SOUTHAFRICA THROUGH A SUSTAINABILITY LENS Leila Mahomed SEED – Urban Programme, PO Box 261, Noordhoek, 7985 Tel: 021 789 2920, Fax: 021 7892954, E-mail: leila@edg.co.za   ABSTRACT By 1999 in South Africa the housing backlog was estimated to be about 3 million units. In 1994the Government of National Unity came into power and committed itself to deliver 1 millionhousing units by the end of 1999. Low cost houses have been and continue to be built at a rapidrate.Stakeholders in the housing delivery arena are under significant pressure to deliver as manyhouses as possible. Evidence has shown that the pressure to deliver in most cases hassuperceded quality and sustainability measures. This paper reviews a few low cost housing  projects and demonstration units in South Africa that have had sustainability agendas. Thereview reflects particularly on energy efficiency in low cost housing but also looks at technical,biophysical/ecological, institutional, social and financial/economic sustainability measures.Energy has been chosen as a focus because, although relatively invisible  to both consumersand planners, is a high cost item of poor householder budgets and significant energy relatedinterventions can be made to reduce costs and improve health and comfort levelsThe review reflects on how the various projects measure up to a range of sustainability criteria.It aims to share lessons and successful experiences from the various strategies which havebeen explored in South Africa to date. In this way critical consideration is also given to howinforming these examples are for future low cost housing development in South Africa. INTRODUCTION With the need to deliver, little acknowledgement has been given to making physical houses andsettlements more sustainable. A limited housing subsidy, community dynamics and localauthority constraints have also compounded this problem. However, more recently a limitednumber, of pilot housing projects with sustainable development agendas have begun to beimplemented. These are laying an important foundation for others to follow. THE QUESTION Housing delivery agents have been under significant pressure to deliver as many houses aspossible. The question I ask here is to what extent sustainability has been considered in theplanning and implementation of these developments. Considering the issue of sustainability inhousing developments has benefits to the homeowner/tenant and the local authorities, includinglong-term energy and water savings and a more habitable healthy home.The paper has drawn information from a few existing low cost housing projects anddemonstration units, including ones with explicit sustainability agendas, so as to share lessonslearned for future low cost housing development projects in South Africa. Although socialsustainability and financial sustainability is important and supports the physical sustainability,this brief paper will look more at the physical sustainability elements of housing developmentswithin the environmental sustainability context, such as energy efficiency and how they measureup. Due to the brevity of this paper, the debated theoretical definitions of sustainability will alsonot be given.  Mahomed Proceedings: Strategies for a Sustainable Built Environment, Pretoria, 23-25 August 2000  2 SUSTAINABILITY There are few housing projects in South Africa that can outright be defined as ‘sustainable’ i.e.projects that exhibit all the sustainability features across the spectrum of social / institutional,financial / economic, technical and biophysical/ecological elements.One of the aims of sustainable development is to improve the quality of life of people whiletaking into consideration the needs of future generations and the capacity of the earth to sustainsuch activities. Sustainability in practical terms means incorporating some of the followingmeasures into a housing development: Housing design:  • Taking advantage of passive solar design through the orientation of the houses towardsthe north. • Placing larger windows on the north facing side. • Placing smaller windows on the east, west and south sides. • Creating thermal mass that absorbs heat. • Supporting greening initiatives such as planting of deciduous trees that block summersun but lets through winter rays, • Installation of roof overhangs, ceilings, ventilation, insulation and draft and dampproofing. • The structures must also be durable, reliable, and functionally constructed Building materials:  • Using earth technology construction. • Installation of water and energy efficient or saving devices such as dual flush toilets, rainharvesting tanks, grey water recycling, vertical geysers, energy efficient lighting andsolar water heaters. • Refraining from using hazardous materials such as asbestos in the construction of thehouse. • Promotion of renewable off-grid energy sources. • Encouragement of alternative more efficient and cleaner fuels such as gas for cooking. • The technology must be appropriate so that the users of the technology can carry outon-going maintenance of the housing project. Location  • Accessibility to amenities, location of the development in relation to employmentopportunities and metropolitan facilities is also important. • Locating settlements away from hazards such as floodplains and certain industries. Process  • Participation that empowers local people with knowledge, ownership, assertiveness,motivation and means is imperative. • Allowing for future upgrade of the house and area. • Promoting the minimisation of the use of resources, including land. • Promoting the use of recycled materials, and the use of renewable over non-renewableresources. • Minimising the damage to sensitive landscapes, including scenic, cultural, historical, andarchitectural features.  Mahomed Proceedings: Strategies for a Sustainable Built Environment, Pretoria, 23-25 August 2000  3 Therefore, if the project has been able to do a combination of the above, then one would regardsuch a project as sustainable even if it has not had an explicit sustainability agenda. In thispaper all of the four pillars of sustainability have been taken into consideration but emphasis hasbeen placed on technical sustainability aspects described above. INTRODUCTION TO THE PROJECTS Many of the projects are still in the planning or early implementation stages. Some havecompleted demonstration units. As the rest of the projects considered have only recently beencompleted it is difficult to assess the long-term sustainability. Each project is different from thenext with its own specific and regional challenges and constraints.As is to be expected, projects that do stand apart from the others either seem to have hadspecial support or circumstances or have relied on the initiative of a ‘champion’. Until such timeas ‘sustainability’ is part and parcel of housing norms and standards and there is activeregulating of incentives, this will be the case. All Africa Game Village The All Africa Games Village Showcase in Alexandra was an Eskom and Rand Water funded 1799-unit housing project (inclusive of a school and shopping centre) built in 1999 to houseathletes from around the continent to the tune of R80 million. Some of the best consultantswere employed here. The village consists of three types of houses put together in differentconfigurations. They have respective areas of 32, 42 and 50 square metres. Dual flush toiletshave been implemented allowing the user to select either a full 11 litre cistern capacity flush or a3,5 to 4,5 litre flush. The Cobra Stella range of low flow showerheads has also been installedlimiting the rate of flow of the water out of the taps and showerheads. The hot water pipes areas short as possible - the maximum length is 2.5m and the standard 100 litre fixed electricstorage water heaters (geysers) is in a vertical alignment.All the houses are orientated to the north. The windows were designed to make optimal use ofsolar radiation. The roofs are light in colour reflecting heat in summer. Roof overhangs, installedover the north facing windows are within 150 mm of the 500 mm overhang regarded as optimalfor protecting rooms from harsh summer sun. The discrepancy is due to the standard length ofroof sheets available.The houses have mono-pitch or double pitch roofs with the ceiling following the shape of theroof. Some of these are insulated with 50 mm of ceiling insulation. It has been difficult todetermine why only some houses where chosen to be insulated, the location of these housesalso seem to be unknown. The units have also had 60 Watt equivalent compact fluorescentlamps installed for internal lighting. Even in a well-funded project such as this not all thesustainability measures suggested by Holm, Jordaan and Partners were incorporated. Forexample, Eskom declined to put in Solar Water Heaters (SWH). Normal geysers were fitted inspite of the fact that Gauteng has excellent solar radiation conditions especially in winter. Thiscould reflect Eskoms interest, their main business being the selling of electricity. Midrand, Gauteng Ivory Park Showcase Village  Ivory Park a township of Midrand is well located in terms of its proximity to economicopportunities. In addition to the subsidy, Middev has secured some British Council funds to build783 units (80% of the proposed Phase 1). The 42 square metre houses are made ofpolystyrene-impregnated concrete slabs and attempts to maximise passive solar design.Unfortunately some of the units are built to close together so cannot benefit from the sun. Due  Mahomed Proceedings: Strategies for a Sustainable Built Environment, Pretoria, 23-25 August 2000  4 to the lack of funds, the insulation, ceilings, solar water heaters and instantaneous waterheaters could not be installed initially and now forms part of the responsibility of the beneficiary.The Sustainable Energy, Environment and Development Programme (SEED) Advisor placed atMidrand Eco-City Project are implementing a ceiling pilot project and instantaneous waterheater pilot project. Due to interests from the beneficiary grouping, Middev will now offer inPhase 2, the option of a 33 square meters house with a ceiling as opposed to a 42 squaremeter house. Midrand Eco-City Project  Plans for the development of urban eco-villages seems to be on the increase. There are talks ofdeveloping one in Grabouw and Guguletu, but by far the most developed one is the MidrandEco-City Project located within Ivory Park. The Eco-City owes many of its successes to thedrive of its initiators, their ability to raise funds, as well as the partnerships it has developedaround projects such as the ceiling installation in Ivory Park (between Eskom & TEMMInternational), the Mudbrick House partnership, its food co-operatives and greening initiativesand its joint venture with Afribike to promote cycling in the Eco-City.Twenty Ivory Park residents built a mudbrick (mud and straw) demonstration house in the Eco-City, in partnership with the University of Twente in Holland, Wits University, DFID as well as theMidrand Local Council. There has been mixed feelings around this mud brick demonstrationunit. Those who built it feel passionate about it, but others perceive it to be in contradiction tomodernity and through the influence of personal experience and horrific pictures of the damageto rural mud houses done by the recent floods in Gauteng question its quality. Kutlwanong, Northern Cape (Peer Africa, ECO-House Project) Kutlwanong is situated near the city of Kimberley in the Northern Cape Province of South Africa.This project provides 52 square metre homes, which incorporate energy efficient measures andpassive solar design. The project has included the following measures: orientation of thedwelling to the north, window design to maximize thermal benefits, appropriate roof overhang,insulated ceilings, polystyrene cavity wall insulation system using a steel frame as the basicstructure. The outer walls are made of a single layer of brick (in most cases facebrick) and theinside walls are made of gypsum board. It has been funded by a number of internationalagencies, received support from many stakeholder including both the local authority andintensive support from Peer Africa. The PEER Africa ECO House was attempted to bereplicated in Gugulethu, Cape Town but to date only 3 demonstration units have been built dueto unresolved differences between the developer and the community. Shayamoya - Cato Manor, Durban This pilot social housing project of 320 high-density (gross density of 110 units per hectare)residential units is being built on a greenfields site in Cato Manor to cater for affordable rentalaccommodation in 2 – 3 storey row housing and flats. Besides the subsidies, top-up financingin the form of a grant from the Malaysian Government (R11, 3 million) has been secured.Project features include north orientation where possible, air ventilation, the placement of twoshops in the settlement that will be rented out. Cato Manor is well located in terms of transportand its relation to central Durban. This project has recently laid its first foundations for half theproject. Even this well funded project is finding it difficult to consider a solar water heater pilotproject or dual flush toilets due to initial capital costs and structural problems, they are howeverinvestigating compact fluorescent lighting in the housing. It is important to note that the designand layout of the structures mitigated against the use of SWH and reflects the importance ofconsidering theses aspects upfront.  Mahomed Proceedings: Strategies for a Sustainable Built Environment, Pretoria, 23-25 August 2000  5 Missionvale, Port Elizabeth Missionvale implemented by Metroplan in Port Elizabeth, is a high density residential projectthat used economies of scale, the sharing of services and splitting of erven to obtain 36 – 56square metre units of eight different structures. Missionvale is well located on valuable land. TheDelta Foundation sponsored research and development and post construction support as somebulk servicing. An innovative lottery system helped allocate single story houses to the elderlyand infirm and bigger double story units to younger bigger families. This is a completed projectand families are settling in well, with some already having established gardens. “IN EFFECT, EVERY DAY WE MISS OUT ON HUNDREDS OF OPPORTUNITIES TO GETTHINGS RIGHT FROM THE START.” Some projects or demonstration units don’t seem to take-off because of delays in subsidyapproval, lack of bridging finance, or the perception of sustainability features being tooexpensive. Others experience problems with community acceptability as in Marconi Beam inCape Town and problems between the developer and beneficiary grouping such as in TamboVillage, Gugulethu, Cape Town. Many developers that have plans for the implementation ofwhat are seen as ‘add-on’ sustainability features such as solar water panels or ceilings seem towant to get over the initial big hurdle of building the houses first. Only once they feel secure thathouses have been delivered do they start looking at how they can improve the settlement for theinhabitants. In many cases, its difficult then to implement some zero-cost solar passive designfeatures or even to upgrade a house efficiently. Or as is seen in Shayamoya, Cato Manor, installefficiency measures such as SWH or dual flush toilets. As has been said by the Department ofHousings Environmentally Sound Housing Task Team: “In effect, every day we miss out onhundreds of opportunities to get things right from the start.” Partnerships It is evident in this review that working together with stakeholders is the most cost effective keyto positive results. Partnership goes a long way in building sustainability features into a projectas can be seen in the All Africa Games Project, Kutlwanong, the Midrand Eco-City and inMissionvale. If you have a winning project it also helps as the number of partner’s increases, asdoes the external funding. Generally partnering with service providers brings capacity andinformation. Partnering with local authorities means greater buy-in and a smoother process insome cases and possible funding in others. All parties working together rather than individuallycould mean in many cases a more viable project. Choosing whom to partner, is also importantas we can see that some organisations may have vested interests. Championing Innovation is not easy and the success stories tell us that both drivers and innovators areimportant. We see this in the Midrand Eco-City specifically where a local councillor championsthe efforts made by the hard working team. The other projects too have their innovators whohave not been afraid to experiment with little known concepts and technologies. A ‘championed’project may also lead to an increased profile and all the concomitant benefits. Capacity Building Capacity building of all stakeholders needs to take place. Local Government officials need to bemade aware of the benefits of sustainable houses and what role they can play. Getting theirbuy-in early in a programme is also important. Similarly political support and will has made theinnovations taken by some of these drivers easier to implement, not without negotiations andsharing of information. Training with homeowners should follow in terms of how one maximisesthe advantages of a sustainably developed or energy efficient house. For example a sustainabledemonstration unit in Gugulethu did not have curtains on the north-facing window at night to
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