Informality and sustainability: Reflecting on South Africa’s informal backyard rental sector from a planning perspective

Type Thesis or Dissertation - PhD thesis
Title Informality and sustainability: Reflecting on South Africa’s informal backyard rental sector from a planning perspective
Publication (Day/Month/Year) 2017
South Africa’s low-income housing sector is typified by sprawling subsidised housing, informal settlements and a hybrid typology manifest as the informal backyard rental sector. Despite growth in informal backyard rentals post-apartheid, housing policies have discounted the sector, focussing on subsidised homeownership and eradicating informal settlements according to Northern-derived modernism. Figures on the scope of informal backyard renting are unreliable and existing literature provides a piecemeal account based on metropolitan case studies. The neglect of the informal backyard rental sector disregards prospects for more sustainable human settlements. This study reflects on these sustainability outlooks from a planning perspective, addressing the research question: ‘What challenges and potentials do South Africa’s informal backyard rental sector present towards the sustainability of human settlements?’ The study employs a literature review informed by electronic data bases and implements mixed method research relying on quantitative data gathered via questionnaires and qualitative data from semi-structured interviews and anecdotal observation in the nonmetropolitan case study of Oudtshoorn, the Rose Valley
informal settlement, Bridgton and Bongolethu. The thesis focuses on housing policy and legislation, planning theory, spatial, economic, social and environmental considerations in relation to the informal backyard rental sector. Research evidences that South African housing policy has made negligible reference to informal backyard rentals and that a dedicated national policy is overdue. By discussing the informal backyard rental sector within planning theory, relating the sector to radical planning and co-production, the study strengthens the argument to consider everyday practice and theorise from the South towards more representative and just outcomes. In investigating the spatial impacts of the informal backyard rental sector, the study reaffirms that informal backyard infill increases dwelling unit and population density substantially, promoting urban compaction and redirecting urban growth from informal settlements. Furthermore, the excellent access to basic services enjoyed by informal backyard tenants improves living conditions, but also stresses infrastructure networks. In terms of economic sustainability, findings suggest that low income dwellings rarely realise financial asset value, trapping homeowners on the low levels of the property ladder in unaffordable housing. Conversely, informal backyard rentals provide rental income or other remittances, realising economic asset value, whilst providing tenants with affordable rental accommodation. vi Informal backyard rentals further promote the social asset value of housing and support social sustainability, evidenced in co-dependent, low-conflict landlord-tenant relationships framed by filial connections that provide tenure security. Findings
indicate that informal backyard rentals challenge sustainability through health and safety concerns. In terms of environmental considerations, research evidences that informal backyard densification does not necessarily require an increased number or area of urban green space to compensate for backyard infill, simply that access to public greenery must be readily available. Evidence suggest that littering and dumpling are concerns connected to an increased number of consumers accommodated in backyard rentals. The study concludes that informal backyard rentals contribute towards the sustainability of South Africa’s human settlements, but that interventions should be considered by authorities and planners to address impediments and amplify potential, especially in terms of informality and sustainability from a planning perspective.

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