Africa: Where and How to House Urban Citizens

Afrique : Où et comment loger les urbains ?
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Article Index
RENTAL: AN ACCESS TO HOUSING
INFORMAL HOUSING IN JOHANNESBURG
JOHANNESBURG DRIVES OUT ITS POOR
NAIROBI, A CITY OF TENANTS
NAIROBI: HOUSING OPENS UP THE CITY TO THE POOR
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Social cohesion is not a new goal in Africa: many countries that have tried to achieve it with varied success. Standards-based housing market regulations do not guarantee reduced spatial segregation or increased homeownership for the poorest people. To attract more economic activity, local governments may try to prevent poor people from migrating to cities, and relegate them ever further from city centres. Protecting access to housing, improving living conditions and increasing the availability and density of rental housing may be effective means to accommodate two billion new urban inhabitants by 2030.

A rapidly growing portion of the global urban population is impoverished and lives in illegal areas. Construction of adequate housing, and particularly housing the urban poor can afford, largely falls short of need, whether one considers rental, owner-occupied or collectively-owned stock. Access to credit for the legal purchase of urban land, housing or home improvements is often out of reach for the poor. These facts lead to two questions: "How will our cities accommodate the two billion new urban citizens projected to need housing in the next two decades?" and "How can cities take up the challenge of social inclusion through improved access to housing?"

The majority of urban population growth is accommodated by so-called "slums," i.e. living areas that lack one or more of a range of basic conditions, such as adequate shelter, water, sanitation and protection against eviction. In this chapter, I argue that governments' approach to slums must be understood in the context of an urban policy that strives for inter-city competitiveness. This discourages an acceptance and legalization of existing settlements and/or slums, and is hostile to the formation of new informal settlements as a response to growth of the urban poor population. However, as I explain in more detail, the granting of "tenure security," or the decisive prevention of eviction, is an important first step in improving the lives of slum dwellers. Government failure to secure tenure, combined with blatant practices of social exclusion by ethnicity or nationality, can exacerbate stresses among low-income communities that can erupt into violence and further social exclusion.

Urban policies and interventions to accommodate two billion new urban citizens in the next two decades must not only address construction of sustainable urban housing, but must also halt a massively under-reported phenomenon: the forceful removal of people from city centres to city peripheries. I refer to two cases of large-scale slum clearance, both targeting rental housing, to illustrate this negative trend in urban practice.

While dominant forms of tenure differ significantly from one region to the next, a powerful lobby of development NGOs, government advisers and others has simplistically promoted owner-occupation or homeownership as a solution to tenure security. In this chapter, I use two contrasting examples in Johannesburg, South Africa, and Nairobi, Kenya, to show how the dominant form of tenure - owner-occupation in one case and renting in the other - has shaped the two cities in very different ways, especially when coupled with their differences in planned and largely unplanned development. These two cities provide significantly different access to housing to their growing, impoverished populations. I will show how the contrast between the sprawling and segregated homeownership districts of Johannesburg and the compact rental neighbourhoods of Nairobi produces surprising, perverse and often ignored outcomes in terms of urban sustainability. These cases suggest a need for a more differentiated approach to urban development and housing policy on the part of local and international policy makers. They also suggest the need for a conscious striving toward a dense, convenient, sustainable and inclusive urban form.

Finally, I argue that the kind of urban competitiveness currently promoted worldwide is not compatible with meaningful social inclusion. There is an urgent need to shift from a primary focus on cities' global competitiveness to one of urban social inclusion, if the growing urban population is to be accommodated adequately.

Inter-city Competition and Exclusion of Urban Poor

In 2000, when the United Nations launched its Millennium Development Project, the global urban population was estimated at 2.86 billion, with a projected addition of 1.38 billion people by 2020 and more than 2 billion by 2030. In 2001, 31.6% of the urban population was estimated to be living in so-called "slums," with the highest concentration of this urban slum population in African countries. Slums are expected to absorb the largest percentage of future urban population increases (UN-Habitat 2003b: 246).

Slums are defined as areas that are lacking in one or more of the following conditions: 1. durable, protective housing; 2. sufficient living space; 3. accessible, safe water; 4. adequate sanitation; 5. security of tenure (UN-Habitat 2003b: 12).

Inadequacies in living conditions largely occur in unauthorized and often unplanned settlements. As cities grow, the urban land market expands and competition increases from other land uses, be they commercial, industrial or higher-income residential. In this context, intensified by the "liberalization of land markets," unauthorized settlements have little protection from future demolition (Durand-Lasserve 2006: 207). Security of tenure, or protection against future eviction, is therefore the most important and most pressing "challenge of slums," as has long been recognized (Abrahams 1966; Angel 1983).

Unauthorized or unplanned settlements with insecure tenure are generally referred to as "informal settlements." They therefore fall under the umbrella term of "slums." Most informal settlements not only lack security of tenure, but are inadequate with respect to all five slum conditions. Unless tenure is secured or settlements are legalized, governments are usually reluctant to invest resources to improve access to water and sanitation, or to improve the quality of shelter. At the same time, except for progressive governments in Latin America (see Fernandes 2007), governments are notoriously reluctant to secure tenure in existing informal settlements, even though this is primarily a legal intervention that does not require massive public expenditure. Their reluctance to secure tenure hinges on a widespread perception among policy-makers that legalizing unauthorized housing will only encourage more unauthorized development by or for a never-ending tide of poor urban immigrants. Furthermore, any one city that legalizes unauthorized construction of housing will fear attracting migration that might otherwise be directed toward other cities. Many city governments consciously create urban conditions that are unattractive to the urban poor, as Kurtz (1998: 82) argues with respect to Nairobi's authorities, in order to prevent the perceived burden of unwanted urban growth that results from inward migration of the poor.

Since the 1990s, cities have also been encouraged to develop a policy mindset of active economic competition with other cities as a requirement for growth, or to strive towards being "globally competitive" (Murray 2008:73). "City Development Strategies" promoted by the Cities Alliance, "an international donor coalition, including the World Bank and UNCHS [United Nations Centre for Human Settlements], but also linked to international organizations of local government," have centred on this objective, though also attempting, with some tension, to address the developmental needs of the growing urban population (Parnell and Robinson 2006: 240). Inevitably, competitiveness includes a city's attempt to attract not only more national and global investment than its competitors, but also - although this is not always explicit - to avoid attracting more unwanted migrants than other cities. Cross-border migration means that this negative competition between cities spans countries' borders. As I will show below, in Johannesburg, South Africa, and Nairobi, Kenya, blatant social exclusion by the state has contributed to violent social exclusion among the poor.

In this context of competitive policy-making, few city governments make it their central objective to unlock access to housing for the poor. Instead, the overwhelming housing needs of the urban poor are seen as a burden, an added challenge and a hindrance to economic growth and urban prosperity. Therefore, many municipalities attempt to keep the poor out of the city or to actively remove them. Eradication, eviction, relocation and resettlement go hand-in-hand with modern world-class city aspirations (Murray 2008), as well as with a perceived mandate from the UN to eradicate slums or informal settlements by 2020. The unfortunate UN slogan "Cities Without Slums," which accompanies the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) 7 Target 11, to "achieve significant improvement in the lives of at least 100 million slum dwellers by 2020" (UN-Habitat 2003b: 8), has resulted in cities closing their doors to the poor. Huchzermeyer (2008a) demonstrates this for the South African capital city Pretoria, where the municipality's budget for the policing and control of informal settlements by private security companies is larger than its budget for basic services to these same settlements. The Gauteng provincial government has hailed Pretoria's informal settlement management approach as a "best practice" for curbing the growth of informal settlements: it is clearly keeping the poor out of the city.

Tenure for the Urban Poor

In neo-liberal policy orthodoxy, the preferred tenure form to promote for the urban poor is freehold ownership (Andreasen 1996; Durand-Lasserve and Royston 2002). The neo-liberal endorsement of home ownership was preceded by modern urban planning, which idealistically promoted low-density suburbia (see Hall 1990) financed through mortgages. The assumption was that most urban households would derive their income from formal employment and would qualify for a mortgage. This model continues to inspire and shape formal urban expansion, despite having long been blamed for creating segregation and motorcar dependence, for being expensive and accessible only to those deemed credit-worthy, and therefore exclusionary (e.g. Jacobs 1961).

For most of the poor in "peripheral countries" such as South Africa and Kenya, the city is seen as a market in the pre-industrial sense of the term. They seek access to cities not for the urban promise of formal (industrial) employment, mortgage and homeownership, but for their promise of a small stake in the informal retail and services market. Despite their relative disinterest in homeownership, there have been efforts across the globe to house the poor as homeowners. Homeownership is promoted by a powerful development lobby. At the one extreme is the increasingly influential international non-profit organization, Slum Dwellers International, which encourages mobilizing the poor's meagre resources through savings and credit towards land purchase and self-construction of individually-owned housing, whether in India, South Africa or Kenya (Bolnick and Mitlin 1999; Weru 2004; Mitlin 2008) - that is, irrespective of context. At the other extreme are prominent liberal policy advisors such the Peruvian economist, Hernando de Soto (2000), who simplistically argues that wealth will be unleashed for the urban poor through formalization and titling of their illegal stakes in the city.

Both positions ignore the reality of increasing growth in rental tenure as the sole urban housing option for the poor and the slightly better-off (see Andreasen 1999; Keyder 2005). They are blind not only to the existence of rental housing, as argued by Gilbert (2008), but also, and perhaps more importantly, blind to the need to intervene sensibly in the growing rental market (Andreasen 1999) and improve conditions in largely unregulated housing stock, much of which qualifies as "slums." Rental tenure in the "developing world" is often inaccurately idealized, as by Gilbert (2008: iii), who calls it a market of "a myriad of small-scale landlords." This position takes as a norm those cities in Latin America, Asia and southern Africa where owner-occupation dominates - a common weakness in the development literature (Andreasen 1999).

In several African cities, the percentage of urban households that rent is much higher than in Asia or Latin America. In any context where three-quarters or more of urban households rent, they cannot possibly all be backyard tenants of small-scale owner-occupying landlords. Where the rental population makes up 70% or more of urban households and the majority of rental stock is private, it is evident that relatively few proprietors own the majority of the rental housing stock (Figure 1). Large-scale absentee landlords often enjoy political patronage and impunity from constructing harmful and exploitative housing that qualifies as "slums." Yet they produce urban densities and centralities that have relevance to an economically uncertain future in which oil may be more costly than at present. I illustrate this in the case of Nairobi below.

Urban land available for owner-occupied low-income housing is growing scarcer, in particular for self-help "squatting." This can be linked to globalization and the increasing privatization of public land and its release into a profit-seeking residential market. This trend has been reported for such diverse cities as Istanbul (where even people whose incomes have improved through globalization increasingly tend to rent (Özüekren 1995; Keyder 2005), Kigali, Rwanda and Phnom Penh, Cambodia (where 20-25% of the population rents: (Durand-Lasserve 2006). Shatkin (2004: 2470) describes similar trends elsewhere in Asia: "While incomes are certainly rising in the globalizing cities of Asia, low-income residents are nonetheless experiencing an unprecedented shelter crisis."

While the liberalized real estate market pushes more and more households into low-quality rentals, often in slums, unauthorized rental housing has been the target of the largest urban eviction drives of this millennium. For instance, the Zimbabwean government sought to "restore order" in its Operation Murambatsvina in June/July 2005. This attack on unauthorized markets, informal/squatter settlements and backyard rental stock deprived an estimated 700,000 people of their homes and 300,000 more of their livelihood in informal commerce (du Plessis 2006; Potts 2006). The operation was condemned internationally. However, it drew sympathy from the Provincial Minister of Housing in Gauteng, South Africa (the province in which Johannesburg is located), who vowed to eradicate unauthorized housing in the province in a similar fashion (Huchzermeyer 2008b). At a similar scale but hugely underreported, the Nigerian government evicted around one million slum dwellers, mostly tenants, in the capital city Abuja between 2003 and 2007 (COHRE and SERAC 2008; Fouwler 2008).

Acquiring and Losing a Home: Two Contrasting Trajectories

In the case of Johannesburg, South Africa, the state subsidizes inconvenience. Where housing for the poor is underwritten by the state, as in South Africa, it is seldom integrated with the city and its economy. Instead, massive schemes are developed on cheap tracts of land on the urban periphery, creating an urban form that itself imposes the extra living costs and the inconvenience of long distances. Ironically, this unsustainable urban form is the result of strict adherence to planning standards and regulations, i.e. what is considered "good governance."

Johannesburg, with a population of approximately 3.2 million according to the 2001 census, occupies an area of 130km by 33km. Despite a compact central business district, its residential density is extremely low - a concern that the city's Spatial Development Framework seeks to address (City of Johannesburg 2008). During the late apartheid years, legislation for controlling migrant inflows to the city was repealed and the enforcement of racial segregation began to crumble. A growing number of urban poor found accommodations in overcrowded government or company hostels, in the backyards of formal township houses, or in the mushrooming informal settlements on township fringes and on abandoned farmland on the urban periphery (Beall, Crankshaw and Parnell 2002). Since the 1990s, the urban poor also occupy the inner city either as tenants or "squatters" in abandoned and/or inadequately converted inner-city high-rise buildings; 78,000 low-income people were recorded as living in the inner city in 2001 (du Plessis 2009).

Under the 1986 policy of "orderly urbanization" that promoted home ownership for the urban poor, large tracts of peripheral land were converted into subsidized sites and service schemes. After the democratic elections in 1994, housing policy was substantially refined and consolidated: a constitutional right of access to adequate housing was introduced. However, the programme continued of massive state-subsidized development of land for the poor on the urban periphery, though with the introduction of a "top structure" or minimal house (Huchzermeyer 2003). This delivery of "free-of-charge" homeownership to the urban poor has perpetuated the segregated and fragmented urban form of the apartheid era (Tomlinson, 2003). Large pockets of uniform dormitory-type housing disperse the urban poor far from the economic opportunities and amenities of the city (Figure 2). While strictly following urban planning procedures, regulations and standards, these policies impose an inconvenient and costly way of life. As a result, poor people who are allocated units are often compelled to return to the better-located informal settlements from which they were relocated.

The simplistic political conception assumes that the allocation of home ownership in marginal locations can achieve social inclusion. This progresses at a slow pace. Nearly 30% of Johannesburg's households are excluded from formal housing, living instead in the city's 179 informal settlements, in squatted buildings or informal rentals in the back yards of low-income people (Figure 3). As part of a national campaign to eradicate informal settlements by 2014 (as erroneously justified by the MDG 7 target 11 slogan "Cities Without Slums"), there are plans for in situ upgrading. In Johannesburg as elsewhere, only half of the city's informal settlements at most are deemed suitable for upgrading, and the pace of implementation lags far behind its targeted goals. The remaining half are still earmarked for demolition and their residents face relocation to new housing schemes on the periphery; meanwhile, current measures prevent the building of new informal settlements, which leads to overcrowding elsewhere.

Social exclusion in South African cities has taken on another, more sinister dimension. City authorities, from law-enforcement officers to housing officials, have shown blatant discrimination against African foreigners, apparently in order to stem the perceived tide of unwanted poor to the city. Foreigners, including economic and political refugees, are excluded from state-subsidized housing, and therefore compete for scarce space in the increasingly confined informal settlements and the underdeveloped affordable private rental market. Already in the late 1990s, this public discrimination helped foster deep resentment against foreign migrants among low-income South African communities, particularly in informal settlements (McDonald 1998). Compounded by slum eradication campaigns that have actively prevented the formation of new informal settlements (thus increasing competition for marginalized living space), a deeply disturbing poor-on-poor xenophobic violence sparked in Johannesburg's informal settlements in May 2008, and spread across South Africa (Pithouse 2008). Thus, bottom-up social exclusion in its rawest and most gruesome form emerged in a country where memories of the apartheid state's racially-based violence still fester.

The situation in Johannesburg contrasts with that of Nairobi, Kenya. In cities where housing subsidies are non-existent, entrepreneurialism is encouraged, and an unregulated urban economy is given free rein to shape the city in a more compact and convenient urban form. Nairobi is my case in point: it has no political pretensions of achieving social inclusion of the urban poor through ownership of a plot of land. Instead, an entrepreneurial rental market provides access to minimal living spaces. While hugely inadequate, often overcrowded, and insecure due to lack of formal authorization, housing opportunities for the poor are well-situated, and may provide access to and reinforce the urban economy through their incorporation of retail opportunities. In the multi-storey rental or tenement market, ground floors are generally dedicated to retail activity. Tellingly, Nairobi's single-storey rental areas, commonly termed "slums," are often referred to as open-air markets.

The prevalence of rental tenancy in Nairobi has its roots in the under-provision of housing for the urban poor masses, during colonial rule and up to 1963. Despite much donor support and interest in the early post-independence years, the distortion between formal supply and demand never reversed. Instead, rental "slums" have come to house an ever-increasing percentage of Nairobi's households, from one-third in 1970 (Nevanlinna 1996: 214) to 55% in 1997 (Nairobi Informal Settlements Coordination Committee 1997), and 60% in more recent estimates (Syagga, Mitullah and Karirah-Gitau 2001).

Nairobi has virtually no owner occupation in self-help "squatter" or informal settlements. Furthermore, according to the Central Bureau of Statistics (2004), only 1.4% of Nairobi's households are in the tenure category of "no rent, squatting" (Figure 4). Land invasion or squatting by the urban poor often precedes illegal access by the better-off, who buy out the initial squatters and, if necessary, hire gangs to fight out conflicts over urban land (Obala, forthcoming). In Nairobi, gang violence rooted in the political and ethnic exclusion of the Moi era (Anderson 2002) reinforces social exclusion, often along ethnic lines. This was evident in the post-election violence of early 2008, when a number of factors triggered a "descent into a spiral of killing and destruction along ethnic lines and the consequent fracturing of the fragile idea of nation" (Mueller 2008: 186).

In Nairobi, slums as well as multi-storey tenements form an important part of the indigenous urban economy (Figure 5). While corruption, violence and ethnic tensions pose serious challenges for social inclusion, one should acknowledge that urban density in the un-gated form of tenement development incorporates retail activity and produces streets with public spaces. Nairobi's combination of good city location, integration of retail activities and presence of public street space provide a convenience and conviviality absent in most parts of Johannesburg. Amin and Graham (1997: 422) point to the important role of "shared public space" in developing "a civic culture that combines self-belief and autonomy rooted in widespread practice of citizenship rights with the potential for tolerance and cultural exchange offered by mingling with strangers."

These positive dimensions of Nairobi's unauthorized spatial form are not reflected in urban policy. Nairobi's latest vision statement (Ministry of Nairobi Metropolitan Development, 2008) seeks competitive advantage, and borrows from South African cities (among others) to brand itself as a "world-class African city." Like Kenyan housing policy (Ministry of Lands and Housing 2004), the vision statement ignores the prevalence of rental tenancy and instead seeks to expand home ownership, an approach that has served largely to provide opportunities for further unauthorized or corruptly authorized investment in tenements (Huchzermeyer 2007).

CONCLUSION

"As a general rule, the primary mechanisms for social inclusion into the mainstream of urban life are regular work and stable income, the availability of authorized residential accommodation, and access to physical infrastructure and basic social services... [anchoring] residents to a rightful place in the city" (Murray 2008: 13).

Social inclusion should be a fundamental principle for housing the urban poor across different contexts. For most cities in "peripheral" developing countries, achieving legal accommodation and access to basic services and infrastructure means authorising and improving an existing residential situation. Ironically, attempts at "getting ahead" of the problem through a focus on planned delivery of home ownership (rather than legalization and upgrading) has reproduced inconvenient, costly and unsustainable urban environments, as in South Africa. If we are to take the spatial dimension seriously in conceptions of social inclusion, then entrepreneurial forms of rental housing must be embraced, realistically guided and regulated to prevent the formation of slums. Cities across the globe, particularly in developing countries, cannot afford not to harness indigenous entrepreneurialism in building urban environments, if they are to house two billion new urban poor by 2030. Governments in many cities have helped foster ethnic, racial or citizenship barriers within their housing markets. These need to be actively broken down, in order to prevent social exclusion from below from undermining the gains of increased housing construction.

While city development strategies promote the idea of an "inclusive city" (see South African Cities Network 2008), this masks a certain contradiction between goals of social inclusion and those of economic or global competitiveness. Parnell and Robinson (2006: 351) call for research "on the challenges of addressing the growth/poverty-reduction dilemma in cities." They are optimistic that "development policy" and "growth-based urban strategy" can be fused in urban theory (Parnell and Robinson 2006: 338). I argue instead for an urgent and far more fundamental rethinking of strategies for our urban future. This requires a more rigorous discrediting of the "global competitiveness" orthodoxy. What is needed is the development of urban as well as housing policies, based on local circumstances that build on, foster and effectively guide local economic processes into the construction of sufficient, adequate and inclusive housing stock for the future.

RENTAL: AN ACCESS TO HOUSING

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INFORMAL HOUSING IN JOHANNESBURG

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JOHANNESBURG DRIVES OUT ITS POOR

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NAIROBI, A CITY OF TENANTS

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NAIROBI: HOUSING OPENS UP THE CITY TO THE POOR

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