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LOCAL ELECTION FACTSHEET: Housing in South Africa

What share of South Africans live in formal houses? How many houses has the government built? Ahead of the local government elections, our factsheet answers voters’ questions.

South Africa is set to hold local elections on 1 November 2021. Citizens will elect representatives for district, metropolitan and local municipal councils across the country.

In its election manifesto, the Economic Freedom Fighters lists “free quality” housing as one of its cardinal pillars. The African National Congress boasts that it has increased access to housing and the Democratic Alliance promises to “increase the scale of housing” delivered through private initiatives. 

What percentage of South Africans have access to housing? How many houses has the government built? We answer these questions and more. 

1. What percentage of South Africans have access to housing?

Statistics South Africa records housing data in its annual general household survey. The latest survey is for 2019. The Covid-19 pandemic delayed the 2020 survey, Stats SA’s service delivery statistics manager Niël Roux told Africa Check. It’s likely to be released on 28 October 2021. 

In 2019 almost 82% of South African households lived in “formal” housing. A “formal dwelling” is a “structure built according to approved plans”. This is in contrast to “traditional dwellings” (built from traditional materials) and “informal dwellings”. 

2. How big is the housing backlog?

South Africa’s housing backlog was estimated at 1.5 million units in 1995. It was expected to increase by 178,000 units a year due to population growth.

By 2018 the human settlements minister reported that the housing backlog had increased to 2.1 million units

The 2019 general household survey estimated that 12.7% of households lived in informal dwellings. This is around 2.2 million households, based on Stats SA’s estimate that the country has  just over 17.1 million households.

Informal dwellings include “makeshift structures not erected according to approved architectural plans”, such as “shacks or shanties” built in informal settlements or in backyards.

Stats SA suggested that “rapid household growth and population relocation” has made it difficult to address the housing backlog. 

3. How many houses has the government built?

The human settlements department’s 2019/20 annual report says it has provided “about 4.8 million” housing opportunities since 1994.

But this doesn’t mean 4.8 million new houses were built. As of 2019, the government had provided just over 3.3 million “housing units” and just over 1.1 million “serviced sites”.

A “serviced site” is a piece of land that is connected to water, sanitation and electricity. Recipients have to build their own houses. 

4. What problems do people experience with state housing?

The share of households that received government housing subsidies grew from 5.6% in 2002 to 18.7% in 2019.

Stats SA includes questions in its general household survey on the quality of this housing “as a result of the concerns raised by community groups”. This was done to “facilitate an analysis of the extent of problems experienced by households with the construction of these dwellings”. 

In 2019, 10.9% of households in state-subsidised houses reported weak or very weak walls and 10.8% said the same of their roofs. These problems were most common in the Northern Cape. Gauteng had the lowest levels of reported weak walls and roofs.

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