How the backyard boom is leaving Gauteng squashed
Housing in SA’s economic hub is at a premium as people fight to find their own space to call home
Gautengers are becoming increasingly squashed as more and more people try to find space to live in the country’s economic hub.
The Change in Residential Buildings report by the Gauteng City-Region Observatory [GCRO] reveals how housing in the province is becoming more dense, with township backyard shacks and security estates mushrooming.
The report’s researchers, using data from satellite images, compared the province’s housing situation over a 15-year period, from 2001 to 2016. The Observatory is a think tank that conducts research into urban issues in the province.
The report reveals how backyard structures and security estates have ballooned by 204% and 249% respectively.
In 2001 there were an estimated 266,929 backyard shacks, which grew to 813,224 in 2016. During the same period, housing estates grew from 26,573 to 92,696.
The smallest increases were recorded in smallholdings, freehold formal houses, rural workers’ housing, flats, hostels, townhouses and semidetached houses.
As well as looking at the areas where housing grew, researchers looked at areas where there was a reduction in dwellings from the formalisation of informal settlements, the conversion of land to commercial use and the development of luxury housing estates.
The report’s author, Christian Hamman, said: “When we think about urban change we typically think only about growth in the built environment, but there are places in Gauteng where the number of dwellings decreased. This can happen because residential areas are redeveloped into commercial nodes, and especially where informal settlements have been removed.”
In total, residential buildings in Gauteng have grown from 2.1 million in 2001 to 3.3 million in 2016. Gauteng’s residents, according to urbanisation specialists, are expected to grow from the current 14 million to more than 19 million by 2030.
The report states population growth and household growth were significant drivers of spatial changes within Gauteng.
“An increase in people and households requires more service and transport infrastructure, more social facilities and public places, and more commercial industrial space. In particular population and household growth drive demand for more housing and, crucially, the physical space to accommodate residential buildings … significant residential densification is underway,” the report found.
It states the highest concentration of dwelling increases [of up to 9,492 residential units per square kilometre] was in Pretoria’s townships of Soshanguve and Mamelodi; Johannesburg’s townships of Soweto and Diepsloot; Gauteng’s East Rand townships of Katlehong and Tembisa; and Sebokeng in the Vaal.
“This is mostly driven by the proliferation of informal and backyard dwellings. In addition, a very clear arch of low-density residential expansion is seen between southeastern Pretoria and the northern suburbs of Johannesburg, much of which is driven by significant increases in security estates.”
GCRO research director Graeme Gotz said the report was not just about people moving into the province, but also about household growth – “which is where government’s concerns lie”.
“Ten people moving into a house connected to basic services would not make government worry, as compared to 10 people each moving into their own single-person homes which are not connected to any services.
“The key concern for government is not so much population growth as it is household growth. This is because it is what sets the service delivery mandate.”
He said the research tried to understand the way dwellings were increasing and where they were increasing.
“The research shows very large increases in dwellings over the period that was looked at, particularly in townships, which leads to high densification, which is mainly in the form of backyard dwellings.”
Gotz said there were both benefits and costs to backyard dwellings.
The benefits, he said, included additional income through rent for those owning old township homes, a reduction in sprawling informal settlements, and municipal services already being connected to the properties.
“The downside is overcrowding and an additional burden on the existing municipal service networks.”
Gotz said the report was useful in that it showed the overall way key trends were reshaping spaces within Gauteng.
“Often our thoughts in planning terms go into looking at informal settlements, new RDP settlements or what is happening in overcrowded inner cities. They often do not look at the invisible changes underway such as backyard dwellings in townships. The research shows the complex and dynamic interaction between the growth of new kinds of settlements, such as estates and gated communities, and less formal settlements, which are often displaced by them.”
Report author Christian Hamman said the key findings were how the high number of backyard dwellings and estates were driving intense urban densification and that the province was predominantly shaped by these dwellings.
He said the rate of residential areas development did not mean the province was running out of housing space, “but rather that people are opting to settle in areas where it is best for them and where it is affordable”.
“This is precisely why you have seen the growth of backyard dwellings.”
Hamman said even if Gauteng’s city developers were to expand the urban footprints of cities, the densification would follow, “as it is a natural trend”.
“The research tells city developers that these growth patterns will be seen in the future. It provides a useful picture of housing change in the province, which is not always that easy to see.”
Urban specialist Mark Napier, who is based at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, said with Gauteng’s current population of 14 million residents set to grow to over 19 million people by 2030 such reports were incredibly useful, as they provide suggestions as to where and how the province is growing and what interventions are needed in terms of providing housing.
“Everyone in the province needs to live somewhere and it shows what needs are or are not being met in terms of housing.”
Gauteng human settlements MEC Uhuru Moiloa said such research reports are very helpful, especially when it comes to advising policy makers on the best measures to take to manage development.
“It’s inevitable that an economic space such as Gauteng will have people flocking into it not only from other regions in South Africa, but from elsewhere on the continent.
“The challenge is in dealing with this. Policy planners have not necessarily anticipated the rapid population growth into Gauteng and as a result there was no thoughtful investment of bulk [housing] or transport infrastructure or industrial planning to ensure people are provided with work.”
He said this has resulted in people coming to the province without certainty as to where they will live, “which has led to urban sprawling through informal settlements, which do not have access to basic services”.
Moila said he would be convening a conference soon which would involve think tanks, academics, civil society, business and labour to help government hammer out an approach as what to do about the proliferation of informal settlements in Gauteng.
“This will be against international protocols that call for governments to establish inclusive cities. It will look at how do we accommodate people who make Gauteng their home and how do we build inclusive cities where government delivers services in line with the Constitution.”