Meeting SummaryThe Department of Human Settlements (DHS) gave its response to relevant points raised at the public hearings on implementation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities. The Convention, in Articles 19, 20 and 28, set out the right of those with disabilities to live independently, be included in the community and have access to in-home, residential and community support services, for their personal mobility to be enhanced, and for public housing, services and assistance, particularly for those who were poor. Countries had to be identify and eliminate barriers to the disabled. The DHS noted that thus far, 1 413 people with disabilities had been provided with houses, across all provinces. The National Housing Policy was adjusted in 1999 to provide for special enhancements to the subsidy houses intended for persons with disabilities, taking into account a range of disabilities and assistive devices. If a medical practitioner certified disability, an increase in the subsidy amount would be approved, to finance the additions or enhancements, which applied to new or existing houses. An existing subsidy beneficiary could apply for more funding if the beneficiary or a family member became disabled. Up to R12 073,00 was available for improvements to a house for a person with wheelchair dependency and R4 091,00 for a visible doorbell indicator. There was no separate budget for disabled housing, but the needs were determined against individual applications. Challenges included the small dwelling sizes, with particular problems with bathrooms, but DHS was busy with new designs, and would obtain feedback from the disabled. A new housing typology may be put in place from April 2013.
Members commented, at the outset, that they were disappointed to see so few women in the delegation and asked about the representation of women and the disabled in senior positions in the DHS. Most Members expressed their concern that so little had been done in this area since 1994, saying that the number of 1 413 was very low, and it had not been compared to any figure for the needs, or backlogs. In addition, RDP houses were most unsuitable for the disabled, with many plagued also with structural problems, and sanitation facilities remained a challenge. There was not fast enough progress, and if the DHS was working with the provinces, they should have been able to provide more data on disabled persons. It emerged that, in the past, application forms had no space for applicants to mention their disability, and provinces must now ensure that this was changed. Members also urged DHS to hold road shows and information sessions, asked how information was made available, and cited a number of settlements with problems. This led to a discussion on whether the DHS was monitoring properly, whether contractors were being used when they had already performed badly in one province, and if building inspectors were checking disabled needs during construction of houses, as well as strategies and cooperation with other departments. Members sought clarity on how the Infrastructure Grant and Urban Settlements Development Grant were applied, and monitored, and heard of the different approaches by different departments to what “access to basic services” meant. They urged that the problems of missing documentation in regional offices had to be addressed, and asked if the Peoples Housing Project had shown success. They also considered the problems of owners illegally disposing of their houses, whether surviving family members would be able to continue building with the subsidy of a deceased person, and problems of fraud by beneficiaries within the system. The Department was asked to provide written responses on some questions within the next two weeks. Finally, the Committee adopted minutes from 1 to 28 August.
Chairperson’s opening remarks
The Chairperson noted that there were no women in the delegation from the Department of Human Settlements (DHS or the Department).
Implementation of UN Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities: Department of Human Settlements response
Mr Martin Maphisa, Deputy Director General: Policy, Governance and Advisory Services, DHS, led the delegation and tendered a formal apology for the Director General.
He noted that the UN Convention, in article 19, stated that persons with disabilities had to be able to live independently, to be included in the community, to choose where and with whom to live and to have access to in-home, residential and community support services. Article 20 stated that personal mobility and independence were to be fostered by facilitating affordable personal mobility, training in mobility skills and access to mobility aids, devices, assistive technologies and living assistance. Countries must recognise the right to an adequate standard of living and social protection, which included public housing, services and assistance for disability-related needs, as well as assistance with disability-related expenses in case of poverty, in line with Article 28.
Mr Maphisa noted that the National Housing Policy was adjusted in 1999 to provide for special enhancements to the subsidy houses intended for persons with disabilities. The revised policy took into account the needs of those with walking aids, partial or full usage of a wheelchair, those who were partially or profoundly deaf, those partially or totally blind, and those with partial or total loss of movement in their upper body limbs. Enhancements to the houses, depending on the nature of the disability, might include access to the house via 12m2 paving and a ramp, kick plates on doors, hand and grab rails, lever action taps, a 1 metre folding door for the bathroom, and increase of bathroom size, a visual doorbell indicator, slip-resistant floor finishing, and colour contrast on doorways, stairs, corners and skirting walls. When a medical practitioner certified disability in a certain category, the MEC for Housing approved an increase in the subsidy amount to finance the additions or enhancements to that specific house. The policy applied to new and existing dwellings, and a subsidy beneficiary could apply for additional subsidy funding if he or a family member become disabled.
Mr Maphisa summarised that R12 073,00 was available for improvements to a house for a person with wheelchair dependency and R4 091,00 for a visible doorbell indicator. The annual Human Settlements Development Grant (HSDG) allocation was fully allocated to the nine provincial governments, in terms of an approved formula. The provinces, in collaboration with the municipalities, had to reserve funding for the various national housing programmes. Enhancement of houses for persons with disabilities was not separately budgeted, and was determined upfront, per project, based on socio-economic surveys and/or the needs registers. The policy only allowed for an individual beneficiary approach.
There were still some challenges. DHS was aware of complaints regarding the size of the dwelling, and especially the bathroom. It had appointed a consortium of experts to design and cost various housing products, including a bigger house for persons dependent on wheelchairs. The final result of the costing project was expected at the end of October 2012 and proposals would be submitted to Human Settlements MinMEC in November 2012.
Mr Maphisa noted that 1 413 people with disabilities had been provided with houses in all provinces, against an additional cost of R17.506 million for enhancements, as at 31 July 2012. (For a breakdown per province, see attached presentation).
The DHS planned to establish Human Settlements Sector Disability Forums throughout the Provinces. The DHS participated in the Interdepartmental Committee on Persons with Disabilities, which was convened by the Department of Women, Children and People with Disabilities (DWCPD) and would work on addressing disability in collaboration with other relevant national Departments, Provincial Departments of Human Settlements and Local Municipalities.
Mr Maphisa concluded that depending on the findings of the current design and costing project, a new house typology for disabled beneficiaries may apply with effect from 01 April 2013.
The Chairperson commented that she hoped to see more women in the delegation on the next occasion that the DHS presented to this Committee, as the failure to include women sent an incorrect signal that women could not lead.
The Chairperson asked the DHS to report on the 2% quota target for the employment of people with disabilities.
Ms H Lamoela (DA) asked what percentage of employees in the DHS itself was disabled, and how many of them were in senior positions.
Ms Scitisho Ramutla, Director: Sector Transformation, DHS, replied that the DHS would provide comprehensive information on the composition of the staff in the DHS. She assured the Committee that the DHS had disabled people on its staff.
Mr Litha Jolobe, Chief Director: Advisory Services, DHS noted that the gender balance of the current delegation was not representative of the situation in the DHS. The DHS endeavoured to meet targets set by government in terms of representivity of women and people with disabilities, including in leadership positions. The DHS had made the necessary changes to make sure there was a balance. The last employment equity report on the DHS was available, and would be sent to the Committee Secretary. Mr Jolobe himself used to be responsible for transformation in the DHS.
The Chairperson noticed the frequent references by the presenter to:” We are in the process of…” and pointed out that people with disabilities were the most neglected target groups. It had been eighteen years since democracy, the Convention had been in existence since 2007, and this Committee was not satisfied with the way and the slow speed in which the process was unfolding. People with disabilities were not yet receiving their due rights.
Ms Lamoela asked why the DHS had only now started to focus on the housing needs of disabled people. If it was indeed working hand in hand with local and provincial governments, the latter would have data on disabled people, and this made her question if the DHS was serious about ensuring better living conditions for people with disabilities.
Mr Jolobe replied that the DHS had not told the whole story about the strides it had made. The DHS was the national custodian of housing policy, as mandated by the Housing Act, but the provinces bore responsibility for implementing policy. The National DHS monitored whether the policy was followed. Mr Maphisa had alluded to certain responsibilities delegated to MECs, because they were closer to the ground than national government. There had been a number of policy reviews over a number of years. At Botshabelo the White Paper on Housing had resulted in a decision to have RDP houses of 18m2. Some were bathroom-sized and were not fit for human occupation, due to shoddy work. The DHS currently had a rectification policy to try to address that problem. However, it was a costly exercise and much money had been wasted in rebuilding existing houses. Other houses had to be rectified in other ways, in order to restore the dignity of the people living in them.
Ms M Nxumalo (ANC) congratulated the DHS on the houses it was currently building. However, she was unhappy about the fact that, across the country, only 1 413 people with disabilities benefited from special subsidies from the DHS. This was not good enough, and disabled people felt they were not benefitting from this government. She suggested that the DHS must hold a road show to inform people of the subsidies for disabled people, including visiting shelters and institutions where disabled people stayed and making them aware that they could apply for subsidies.
Mr Themba Nobatana, Chief Director: Executive Support, DHS, said that the DHS took heed of the proposal for a road show and a turnaround strategy, as well as pamphlets to inform disabled people how they could realise their rights.
Ms Ramutla said that at a recent Women’s Economic Empowerment Gala Dinner, the Minister of Women, Youth, Children and People with Disabilities had recognised the work of the DHS in relation to the Women’s Build and Youth Build. She was hoping for a similar Build for People with disabilities. The DHS registered this as an action item for March 2013. Similarly, it was intending to do road shows. DHS usually undertook awareness campaigns during the 16 days of activism against the abuse of women and children, and also undertook social facilitation and consumer education when it went to provinces, before awarding houses to beneficiaries. Road shows specifically to create awareness amongst the disabled was registered as an action item, and she hoped it could be launched on 3 December 2012, International Day for people with disabilities. These road shows could also be used to get information first-hand from those with disabilities, to feed in to the housing design process.
Ms Lamoela said special sanitation facilities remained a challenge. The presentation had suggested that the bathroom size could be increased at the expense of other rooms, but this would actually not address the concerns, and instead, extra total floor space was needed.
Mr Maphisa agreed that the disabled had special sanitation needs. The Department of Water Affairs had handed over the sanitation function to DHS in 2011, and it was now part of the Special Infrastructure Programme (SIP). Details would shortly be given on interventions planned in the rural areas, and DHS would ensure that consideration was given to the needs of those with disabilities.
Ms Lamoela referred to the old RDP houses in Ashton, which were about the size of bathrooms. In these, in particular, wheelchair-bound people had no quality of life, could not move around and battled to go through doorways. She asked if there was any strategy in place to adapt those houses to make them more comfortable for disabled residents. She also asked how many existing dwellings were included in the DHS’s policy changes.
Mr Jolobe replied that people living in old RDP houses could apply for subsidies to adapt their homes. DHS would investigate the condition of the RDP houses in the Ashton area.
Ms B Diemu (COPE) remembered that some houses were built in Delft from asbestos, and asked if DHS was still building in this way, and if the disabled people living there would be moved.
Mr Nobatana said there was recorded evidence of a link between asbestos and lung cancer, and, in terms of the Ministerial Norms and Standards, asbestos was no longer considered a suitable material for construction of houses.
Ms Lamoela acknowledged that the DHS did not use asbestos as construction material for houses any longer, but pointed out that she had also seen, in Humansdorp, construction using cement slabs with polystyrene between, which simply seemed to be a way for contractors to cut costs and pocket more profit. The contractors should be held liable if the project failed.
Mr Jolobe replied the DHS would investigate that issue by asking the Province for information. He noted that he had personally accompanied the Portfolio Committee on Human Settlements on oversight visits.
Ms Lamoela asked whether the DHS took climate change considerations into account.
Mr Jolobe replied that the DHS had a research unit to do research on climate change. It also had an Innovation Hub which looked at new typologies, and which building materials were suitable for particular climates or situations. The DHS advised the people in some areas in the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu Natal against building mud huts, because of the prevalence of tornadoes.
Ms Lamoela noted that R4 091 was available for visible doorbell indicators asked if they were so expensive and why the DHS was not buying in bulk to negotiate better prices.
Ms C Mosimane (COPE) asked whether DHS could distinguish complaints of the disabled from other complaints, and wondered if the building inspectors were doing their job properly, otherwise they would surely pick up the problems during building.
Ms Lamoela asked whether DHS had a specific complaints mechanism for those with disabilities, if they felt they were being discriminated against.
Mr Jolobe replied that the DHS had a 24-hour hotline where all complaints could be registered. The responses to these complaints were monitored, and the desired turnaround time was seven days.
Ms S Paulse (ID) asked what measures were in place to enable visually impaired people and people with other disabilities to access information on the special subsidies that DHS offered.
Mr Jolobe said he had initiated the process of making information available to differently-abled people when he was still in charge of the transformation programme in the DHS. Government policy dictated that its material had to be accessible to all. The DHS experimented with Braille business cards and was trying to put the right measures in place although this was quite an involved process.
Mr Nobatana said that further responses on this would be sent through.
Ms Lamoela noted that the DHS was aware of the complaints about the size of the houses and bathrooms, but asked if it was doing oversight and monitoring on what needed to be implemented, especially at construction stage. She again referred to the Ashton area, saying that although RDP houses had been built some years ago, there was still no door on the bathroom. Whilst it was not the duty of the DHS to actually hang the doors, it should have picked up the shortcomings through proper monitoring.
Mr Jolobe replied that there was a Housing Code that laid down norms and standards according to which houses had to be erected. All municipalities and provinces who were accredited developers had to abide by the Housing Code. The National Home Builders Registration Council (NHBRC) was supposed to monitor whether the accredited developers adhered to the norms and standards.
Mr Maphisa added that the DHS would look into this matter and see whether it could not include a template in the inspectors’ report, which would make it possible to extract the information about the complaints by and from people with disabilities, and would also consult with other departments to ensure that this report would satisfy them.
Mr Nobatana added that DHS did indeed have a monitoring and evaluation function that was being performed. He would report back to the management on the necessity to focus on the extent to which projects in provinces and towns catered for the special needs of people with disabilities. DHS might need to adjust its monitoring techniques in order to target how projects accommodated the needs of people with disabilities. He also added that, with the setting up of the Department for Performance Monitoring and Evaluation, DHS had aligned it systems, and all monitoring reports could be sent to the Committee if required.
Ms I Ditshetelo (UCDP) agreed with her colleagues that the figure of 1 413 houses for the disabled was very low, and wondered what criteria were used to select the beneficiaries. She knew many disabled people, even in her own town.
Mr Jolobe replied that the DHS left it to the provinces to identify people with disabilities, when they applied for housing. A medical certificate was required to confirm the disability. After the application had been processed, the DHS was given data on the nature of the disability and any top-up requests also had to contain this information.
A Member asked if the DHS was in possession of a fully-updated database on all people with disability in the country. In relation to the RDP house mentioned, there was no indication whether the applicant was disabled. The figure of 1 413 was not measured against total numbers. In a recent TV documentary, it was claimed that disabled people waited up to four years for houses, only to find that they were not conducive to their needs.
Mr Maphisa replied that the DHS, with the help of the provinces, would go out of its way to generate a separate database with baseline information on people with disabilities. What had been presented in this meeting was a first attempt. There was also a formal request to break the information down per province and per town/municipality, and this could be done within the next year.
Mr Jolobe added that in the past the application forms had no space where applicants must declare their disabilities, and provinces had to ensure that this would now be captured. He pointed out that the system was only as good as the information fed into it. He was sure that the situation on the ground was different to what DHS knew, as the provinces took time to upload information, and what had been presented was all that the DHS had at present. He agreed that it did not paint a positive picture.
Ms Diemu noted that in Kraaifontein, 10 000 units had been built in ten phases, but not a single one of those was conducive for people with disabilities. The N2 Gateway Housing Project was also not suitable for people with disabilities.
Mr Maphisa replied that the DHS had noted this and efforts were being made to have it rectified. There were many other problems, like structural defects, that also needed to be fixed. Part of the rectification would be the installation of ramps for the walk-ups.
Ms Lamoela asked whether there was any strategy with the line departments, including Department of Public Works (DPW) to speed up the process of delivering houses to the disabled.
Mr Jolobe stressed that the type of dwelling allocated would depend on the disability. Provinces had to make a top-up from their own funds. The UN Convention and the policy enhancements to the Housing Act guided the DHS in improving the way it catered to the needs of people with disabilities. DHS was also reviewing its own policy, in light of its new mandate. It had to provide a new “basket” of products, which would include recreational facilities and proximity to economic nodes for all new developments, so it was working with Department of Cooperative Governance (DCOG) and Education. There was a need to streamline and align budgets so that housing, schools and sporting facilities could be built together. Housing had to be a catalyst for the development and provision of other socio-economic services. DHS also now had a relationship with the DWCPD, and was trying to do a costing for houses that would cater for different disabilities.
Ms Ramutla added that the DHS also worked with the Department of Social Development in the provinces, as well as the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform (DRDLR), especially on the War-on-Poverty Programme, to recognise the needs of those with disabilities. The Department of Health had sponsored a number of wheelchairs for the DHS.
Mr Maphisa explained that, in order to shorten the turnaround time on projects, DHS had entered into agreements with other departments. The Land Release programme, working with DRDLR, was coordinated by the Housing Development Agency (HDA), a structure formed in the previous year. DHS was also trying to arrange for quicker turnaround of Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs). There was a MinMEC with DCOG, so that the two departments could plan and work to synchronise and align plans.
Ms Lamoela again expressed her concern that 18 years into democracy, only 1 413 houses catered to the special needs of disabled people. Only eight people had been serviced in the North West, and 20 in Limpopo, despite the needs being so apparent several years ago. She thought that a breakdown was needed, by province and by town, to assess the needs.
Ms Diemu asked how many houses were allocated to people with disabilities within the current financial year and the current backlog. She wondered if there were measures to ensure that all houses would be accessible for disabled people.
Mr Jolobe replied that the DHS did not have that information available immediately, but would provide it to assist the Committee in oversight.
Ms Lamoela reminded the DHS that people with disabilities lived by the slogan: “Nothing about us without us”. She wondered if disabled people were included in the department’s integrated planning processes, to allow them to come up with concrete solutions.
Ms Ramutla confirmed that the disabled were part of the planning process in the DHS. The DHS hoped to launch the National Integrated Persons with Disabilities Forum in December, with representatives from all provinces and national key departments. The DHS also facilitated training of persons with disabilities, at the NHBRC institution in Gauteng, as they had to be dealt with holistically and as participants, not only as beneficiaries. DHS felt it was important to have a structure and framework to promote the empowerment and participation of people with disabilities, and shared the disabled people’s views on participation.
Ms G Seke (ANC) asked for clarity on the Municipal Infrastructure Grant (MIG), saying that 15% of the MIG was supposed to be used for sports and recreation facilities, but apparently all the money was used for houses and sanitation. She asked DHS to clarify the details on the two grants it monitored.
Mr Maphisa explained the difference between MIG (as it was formerly known) and the Urban Settlement Development Grant (USDG). Cities that were now also accredited to be developers, in addition to the province, received the USDG, which was paid directly from the national DHS to those cities and metros, which meant that DHS could exercise oversight over the spending. Those receiving the infrastructure grant (formerly MIG) were overseen by the provinces, and DHS was still grappling with this.
Mr Jolobe added that MIG was administered by DCOG, and this was a problem. In the past, houses had been built without bulk infrastructure being provided, and MIG had been abused by some municipalities, who had used it to pay salaries, despite the fact that it was a conditional grant and therefore should be used for its intended purpose only. Infrastructure being put in after the houses were built was costly, because walls had to be broken down.
Mr Nobatana added that the DHS now had a very close relationship with DCOG, and what the latter did impacted on DHS. Sometimes there had been challenges in determining what “access to basic services” meant for each department, and each department, for instance, saw electricity in a different way, whether to provide access to households, or to light up areas to prevent crime. He stressed again that municipalities were the delivery agents for the USDG, and it was designed to finance all the requirements which made housing developments into human settlements. There were still some constraints, as it was a new grant, and DHS was still grappling with implementation, and other issues relating to planning and financial cycles were also challenging.
Ms Seke highlighted that another aspect of monitoring was management of information in the regional offices, and said that she had many reports about applications for housing being lost or misplaced. She suggested that the national DHS had to attend to this.
Mr Maphisa agreed that this was a big problem for DHS, and it had therefore introduced a national database system known as HSS, which now was set to reject applications for people who already had houses in other provinces, using ID numbers and being compliant with the Department of Home Affairs and other databases. Some municipalities, however, had not installed HSS.
Ms Seke cited a case in which a disabled person had received approval for a house in 2000, yet the house had still not been built, although a new allocation claimed that it had been built. She was not sure how to deal with this.
Mr Maphisa said queue-jumping and missing houses were cases that should be reported to the in-house Special Investigating Unit as a fraud.
Ms Mosimane noted that investigation was needed into provincial processes. Contractors might botch a job in one province, only to move to another where they proceeded to do the same.
Mr Jolobe replied that as part of the rectification process, the DHS also used the Special Investigating Unit (SIU). Some of the culprits, who had done shoddy work on a project would be brought to book. He agreed that the DHS should be spending its budget on new projects, instead of having to rectify old problems. A number of companies had already been blacklisted, people had been arrested, and some were involved in court proceedings.
Ms Seke said she would address the housing projects in the North West with the delegation after the meeting.
Mr Jolobe acknowledged the problems in the North West province and would share the report on that province with the Portfolio Committee.
Ms Diemu said that the lack of monitoring by national DHS was a serious problem, and agreed that too much money was wanted in rebuilding incorrect structures. She asked if Peoples Housing Project builders were companies, commenting that many were inexperienced in the Western Cape. She noted that in Wallacdene, an area with a high water table, the houses constructed had simply fallen apart in 2000, but had never been rebuilt. There were disabled people amongst the residents there, and Ms Diemu herself had arranged for one to be moved to another house which, although not ideal for a disabled person, was at least better than her original dwelling.
Mr Nobatana replied that, despite the challenges to the PHP system, one should not lose sight of the strategic intent of PHP as a mechanism that would involve the beneficiaries in the building. Part of the challenge lay in providing training to the people, by the Department of Labour, in, for instance, masonry and carpentry. At one stage, PHP was not registered with NHBRC, but currently all projects were required to register, in order to monitor quality.
Mr Maphisa added that PHP housing projects were subjected to Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA) processes as well as quality assurance.
Ms Lamoela asked whether, in the case of the death of the breadwinner during the owner-building process, the surviving family member could access a grant to complete the house.
Mr Jolobe replied that the subsidy system catered for people earning R3 500 and less. If anybody within a family qualified for the subsidy, he or she could apply. However, if the surviving members earned more, they would fall into the gap market of those earning R3 501 to R15 000, and they would qualify for government assistance towards a bond, with government paying the deposit, under the Finance Limited Individual Subsidy Programme. In this case, the house value had to be less than R300 000.
Mr Maphisa noted that by law, no RDP house should be sold within eight years of it being allocated.
Mr Jolobe added that this was, however, very difficult to monitor and in reality the houses were sold in back-room deals, without any formal conveyancing processes, instead of being sold back to the State.
Mr Maphisa said that five years ago, DHS had done an occupancy audit and had found that one-third of houses were no longer occupied by the owners, and the wrongful owners were not, as had been suspected, necessarily foreigners. DHS was still seeking a solution to this problem.
The Chairperson said the fact that there were so many loopholes suggested that government did not have a good system for selecting the correct beneficiaries. The wrong people were being allocated homes, and the systems still failed to identify the legitimate beneficiaries.
Ms Diemu agreed, saying that professionals such as teachers and doctors were occupying RDP houses, and some were being used as doctors’ surgeries, or used the house as a burial society fund, selling it on death to pay the funeral expenses. She asked if teachers with disabilities also had to use the banking systems to become a home owner.
Mr Jolobe said the DHS had even visited Brazil to study suitable models, and in this country, a person was obliged to re-sell the house to government, for the price of the subsidy. Part of the problem was that when people were given a free house, they attached no value to it. The PHP programme was useful because beneficiaries paid in “sweat equity”, and would sell through legal channels. DHS had to look again at the system. There were good intentions behind it, but the process had unintended consequences. Three million houses were built in South Africa since RDP was implemented, but one third were in the wrong hands.
The Chairperson said that the presentation had provided insight. She hoped the DHS would provide the requested information, within two weeks. The Committee had to compile a report on its interactions with the various departments. She urged DHS to make itself more visible, with road shows, and to create awareness of what assistance was available to disabled people. She reiterated that people with disabilities, as a target group, were neglected by society, and urged DHS to do its part in restoring their dignity, as reflected in the UN Convention
Adoption of Minutes
The Committee adopted minutes of meetings held on 1, 8, 21 and 22 August 2012, without amendment. The minutes of the meeting held on 28 August 2012 were adopted, with minor adjustments.
The meeting was adjourned.