The PELIP Housing Company is a non-governmental organisation established in 1999 by the Port Elizabeth Municipality in collaboration with the Swedish International Development Co-operation Agency ( Sida). Its overall aim is to assist the City of Port Elizabeth in its efforts to reduce the housing and improve the quality of life of the citizens of Port Elizabeth. PELIP is focusing on unlocking and mobilising the financial and resources of the private sector , as well low-income communities toward housing development. PELIP assists low-income families in accessing small loans from participating financial institutions and utilising such loans for the construction of a new house or for the improvement of an existing house or shelter.
The housing was commissioned and designed to be innovative and to contribute in a strong way to the housing debate in South Africa. Its aim was to demonstrate values and possibilities in housing which are of general importance and also to be adapted to the particular nature of its context (site, climate, social & economic).
The built project has enabled ordinary citizens to have a far better understanding of housing choice and of how housing can make a contribution to their quality of life. Local authorities and other organizations responsible for housing delivery and policy making have been able to form a radically different view of what constitutes good housing in a broader sense. This project has been the subject of numerous publications nationally and has in that way substantially contributed to the housing debate.
Situation before the initiative began
Housing is in crisis in South Africa today – the current policy seeks to solve the so-called housing problem with a uniform approach which is to provide each family with a house or a tiny plot. As a consequence South African cities are spreading outwards at such an alarming rate creating low-density, low-income settlements on urban peripheries. This anti-urban approach to housing is unsustainable and debilitating for those people who need the housing. This initiative must be viewed as a response to this highly questionable approach to housing and city making.
Red Location was established in Port Elizabeth 100 years ago as a so-called Black township by the British colonial power. It suffered from neglect and in the 1950’s and 1960’s was the site of struggle against the Apartheid government. The first passive resistance campaign against the pass laws occurred in the area in the 1950’s - 4 men were shot dead by the police in one of the first violent confrontations between the Apartheid state and the resistance. It remained a site of struggle during the years of Apartheid and as a consequence was allowed to deteriorate by the local authorities in retribution. Due to its importance in terms of the struggle for equality, it is recognized today as an important historical site together with Robben Island and Freedom Square. It is today a residential area of very low physical quality although it enjoys a vital community life.
Establishment of priorities
The project had to be a demonstration of:
principles, alternatives and choice in order to change perceptions and make a substantial impact on both the immediate physical environment as well as the policies that inform housing delivery.
the value of good housing close to the opportunities of the city.
issues normally perceived as outside the housing debate such as disabled access and use, income generation and environmental concerns such as material use and water conservation.
It is intended to upgrade the area by improving existing houses and building new houses on available land. Also the new local government has decided to transform the area into a cultural precinct and a museum of Apartheid will be built in the area together with other social and cultural facilities together with the housing it is intended to transform the area into a viable living environment in which a full range of uses can exist side by side. The families who live there are low-income earners so that the new housing has to be both handsome but also cost effective.
Formulation of objectives and strategies
The houses have to be cost effective and must fit within the government’s subsidy limit of approx. $2500-00. The new housing must be replicable and be able to be built elsewhere in the city. It has to be handicapped accessible and must be capable of easy extension. The strategies were established by consultation with the community over a two year period and were agreed to by all parties before any construction began.
It was decided from the outset that housing would be produced that would challenge the approach of the government which has chosen to define the housing problem in a very conventional manner i.e. to build every family in South Africa a free-standing house on a tiny plot of land in a neighborhood of similar houses – not only is this approach to housing unsustainable and debilitating but it is also anti-urban.
The problems that were faced were political inasmuch as many of the local residents had become cynical about promises that had been made in the past which were never realized. This set up a conflictual situation which was only resolved after many meetings. In addition the local authorities were unwilling to commit themselves to what they saw as a provocative response to the housing crisis. It was only through the support of SIDA and Pelip who were prepared to fund experimental housing that we were able to proceed with the project. Once the first houses were completed, the community threw its weight behind the project and more than 400 applications were receive d for the first few houses. In addition full support from local government has now been secured for the housing initiative.
16 Show houses were built initially to gauge community response. The brief was to build experimental houses which were built to different standards and sizes to demonstrate the wide variety of choice that can exist in housing. The community was then consulted with regard to the built works. The next 100 houses are to be built soon.
The housing in Red Location was commissioned by Pelip, a not-for-profit housing development company. The Port Elizabeth Transitional Local Council and the Swedish International Development Co-operation Agency in terms of a bilateral agreement between the governments of Sweden and South Africa developed this program to explore means of providing access for poor people to good quality housing.
The result was to provide housing alternatives aimed at changing the perceptions of both people as well as government at local levels. One could say that the housing that was produced was both cultural and political. The result was to shift the values of both institutions and ordinary citizens who have come to expect that good housing comes in one form only, namely one house one plot.
The housing has achieved these objectives.
The local authorities now have a sustainable model of housing which breaks free from the constraints of what was provided in the past Local citizens are energized inasmuch they are now provided with an alternative to what was provided in the past and can now look forward to greater housing choice in the future.
The major drawback was that this housing must not be seen as the cure to all housing problems but only one of a number of similar initiatives that must be undertaken. To this end, Pelip is building another 6 housing projects in the area in which radically different approaches will be attempted to demonstrate further the vast range of potential housing choice that can be offered to people at an affordable level.
Finally the result that was considered most important is that it was demonstrated in a clear and unambiguous way that good design can still have value even at the most basic levels and that there is a significant role for architects to play in helping to create through good design well planned sustainable and handsome living environments for even the most disadvantaged citizens of our country.
Financial – the housing is provided in terms of the government’s housing subsidy which is the equivalent of $2500-00. In addition a low-interest loan up to a maximum of $900-00 is provided by Pelip to those families who qualify by. The money that was borrowed is paid back in a conventional manner.
Social and economic – the housing has been designed to accommodate what is considered to be the widest range of needs including old age accessible housing as well as disabled accessible housing. The construction process was designed to create employment opportunities for local people and skills training and upgrading of skills were also implemented.
Cultural – the housing seeks to address the issues of culture not in a facile, imitative way but rather seeks to address the issues of appropriate housing through a close study of how to create purposeful spaces that can be appropriated in ways that will provide people with opportunities to live, trade, and rent spaces. Also the design of the houses and their relationship with the street and sidewalk was based upon research that was done in the area looking at ways in which people use space ad the sidewalks in the area.
Environmental – careful consideration was taken in placing where possible the houses in such a way that maximum benefit could be derived from the sun, winds and views. At the kinds of costs of these houses, people cannot afford even the most rudimentary services so that heating and cooling must be achieved by passive means – this is crucial since basic physical comfort in housing is considered by ourselves as equivalent to a basic human right. In addition rainwater conservation has been implemented and sustainable materials used where possible.
Good design can play a part in the creation of viable living environments for low-income families.
High density medium rise housing is sustainable and affordable for low income families -equally smaller plot sizes does not necessarily lead to a lower environmental quality. This is crucially important in South Africa today where the continued outward expansion of cities driven by current housing policy is creating unsustainable communities far from work opportunities and the other amenities that people need to sustain a reasonable urban life. The self help model is only one of many models which can be employed in low-income housing. There is a role for the designed medium density and formally constructed process.
Through careful manipulation of the process of construction local people can be drawn into the construction of their homes without necessarily losing building quality. Equally the skills transfer that occurs creates the opportunity for local contractors being able to take over the construction process entirely and managing the process of building low income housing for themselves and their community. . The sense of empowerment that this engenders reinforces in turn community cohesion.
Contrary to popular belief not every family in South Africa wants to live in a free-standing home on a small parcel of land. People need choice and the thrust of housing policy should be directed to opening the range of choice as much as possible. This project is a very small move in this direction. Judging from the response of local people this, has been achieved. The empowerment that this has created has made for a more cohesive community which can now take responsibility for its own housing and which has a sense of hope for the future.
Close collaboration between local government, communities and aid organizations does work and can have a positive impact on the housing conditions of low income families. It is a difficult process to manage since the different actors have very different needs and agendas but the involvement of all these actors is crucial to the success of the project Pelip is currently involved in developing 6 different sites in the City of Port Elizabeth in which the lessons learnt from the Red Location project are being refined and adjusted.
Architecture can contribute to making a better world for people to live in and more importantly good design has a fundamental role to play in the creation of viable healthy urban living environments.
The most important lesson in terms of replicability was the process rather than the design and it was designed from the outset to reflect this attitude. We were concerned that people would seek to simply copy the designs and build them elsewhere thereby in a sense repeating the same mistakes that are endemic to current housing policy which seeks to simply repeat the same free-standing house throughout the country.
Through the emphasis on process rather than product we have managed to develop an approach which will make it possible to build many different housing elsewhere in which the houses themselves will be shaped by local conditions whether they be social, cultural, climatic or site specific. In this way we hope that a much more varied housing will emerge tailored to suit the particular needs of both the individual as well as the needs of the wider community.
The institutional framework that was developed is also designed to be replicable and this in turn has been influential in helping other projects get off the ground.