New housing norms and standards & provinical and local response: Department of Human Settlements briefing

NCOP Public Services

10 June 2013
Chairperson: Sibande, Mr M (ANC, Mpumalanga)
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Meeting Summary

The National Department of Human Settlement (NDHS) briefed the Committee on the unification of standards for construction, house sizes, electrification and energy efficient standards. The purpose of the meeting was to present the current status on technical norms and standards for the housing subsidy market, revisions to date, reflect on the Southern Cape Coastal Condensation Area standards, and confirm the current standards of the revision project. If the subsidy houses were to comply with the National Building Regulations (NBR) and one upgraded the electrical installation the total projected cost of the new product was R110 947 as opposed to the current subsidy of R64 6660. Delivering a higher-quality product came at a premium and would limit the number of houses that could be built: 41 244 houses would be lost due to the increased cost of each house.

Concerns from the members included balancing the costs of compliance, escalation, variations, and project management fees, and the number of homes lost associated with these costs. The refusal of MINMEC and several municipalities to accept the new norms and standards was also of great concern. Also raised was the SCCCA variation and its rollout. Towards the end of the discussion, a debate about the merits of building houses with sufficient amenities versus more but simpler houses, developed between the ANC and DA. Chairperson Sibande concluded the meeting by suggesting that the department increase its outreach and communication with the various levels of provincial and local governments.

Meeting report

National Department of Human Settlements (NDHS) on unification of standards
The National Department of Human Settlement (NDHS) briefed the Committee on Public Services on unification of standards for construction, house sizes, electrification and energy efficiency. The purpose of the meeting was to present the current status on technical norms and standards for the housing subsidy market, revisions to date, reflect on the SCCA standards, and confirm the current status of the revision project.

Mr Louis van der Walt, NDHS Director: Human Settlements Policy, reminded the Committee that prior to December 1998 there were no norms and standards. Since the passage of the Housing Act of 1997 the housing environment had changed substantially as there had to be national norms and standards.

Norms and standards were last revised in 2007. These were the minimum level requirements and no plan could be approved that did not meet these. These standards could be exceeded if there were savings possible in other areas, or other departments or donors could add to the funding.

Minimum Level of Service
▪ Water: Single standpipe per stand (metered) ▪ Sanitation: VIP or alternative system agreed to between the community, the municipality and the MEC Water and sanitation services differ in rural areas where normal township development was not an option. Services in such areas were referred to as being off-grid services, thus onsite sustainable solutions were approved by the MEC and beneficiaries. Services in urban areas were mostly linked to reticulation services of the municipality. ▪ Roads: Graded or gravel paved road access to each stand. This did not necessarily require a vehicle access to each property ▪ Storm water: Lined open channels ▪ Street lighting: High mast security lighting for residential purposes where this was feasible and practicable, on condition that such street lighting was not funded from the MIG initiative or from other resources. ▪ House minimum size was 40 square metres of gross floor area.Each house as a minimum must consist of: Two bedrooms; a separate internal bathroom with a toilet, a shower and hand basin; a combined living area and kitchen with wash basin; a ready board electrical installation where electricity supply in the township was available. Changes were made to the specifications of the shower floor to allow for washing to be done and perhaps bathe a small child. Installation of one light and one plug. Floor plans have been disseminated to all provinces and municipalities.

Variation Manual
This was a subsidy variation mechanism introduced to cater for any extraordinary developments or conditions. This Manual provides for a comprehensive tool to adjust and add to the subsidy. It was supported by an automatic cost calculator. All variations determined by the Member of the Executive Council (MEC) must be supported by technical expertise of an engineer to ensure the design was suitable to alleviate the problem, but variations for each project may not exceed estimated costs by more than 20%.

The Southern Cape Coastal Condensation Area variation (SCCCA) was the most controversial variation. It consists of a demarcated area along the southern coast of the country that experiences a combination of higher winter rainfalls and low temperatures, causing condensation and potential growth of mildew. Precautionary measures have been planned for installation. The variation restriction of 20% excludes the SCCCA variation which increases the subsidy amount by R12,917.68 to fund the precautionary measures.

NDHS had finalised new norms and standards for energy efficient dwellings. They comply with the energy efficient requirements published in 21 November 2011 by the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) and were referred to as the National Building Regulations - South African National Standard 10400 XA. The measures were basically the same in the SCCCA area, the only difference being that homes in the SCCCA area would require external plastering and painting.

Through the department's research, they have determined that if they only provide one plug and one light in the homes, residents would install a variety of extension cords into the one outlet making it a very dangerous living situation. Included in the new norms and standards was now a provision for four electrical outlets and lights, one for each living area.

If the subsidy houses were to comply with the National Building Regulations (NBR) and we upgrade the electrical installation the total projected cost of the new product was R110 947 as opposed to the current subsidy of R64 6660.

The MINMEC (Minister and Members of Executive Council) had not approved the revised norms and standards and some of the municipalities have already refused to approve new building plans. This was because up to 41, 244 houses would be lost due to the increased costs. However, the National Home Builders Registration Council (NHBRC) would not enrol houses which were inconsistent with the National Building Regulations (NBR).

The Department did not want the standards to deviate but would like for the Urban Settlements Development Grant (USDG) to be applied to generate priority development as identified by government. The housing subsidy scheme would finance the internal reticulation services and house building, and the bulk funding must come from the USDG. For normal townships that do not qualify for USDG funding at this time, the Municipal Infrastructure Grant (MIG) must cover the bulk of the services. These standards comply with those of all other departments, and actually exceed those of the Department of Water and Sanitation. Technical requirements for a VIP toilet were not suitable for a densely urban development, but all other housing standards remain the same.

Discussion
Mr H Groenewald (DA North West) was concerned that at this stage in South Africa there was a huge backlog of housing to be built and questioned if it was really necessary to supply a house with an additional three electrical connections, and should it really cost R12 000 to put in three additional connections, for such small houses? He suggested that the calculations be revisited. He pointed out that by revising the requirements from one electrical outlet and light to four, 41 000 homes would be lost, based on the department's calculations. Considering the backlog, he suggested just putting in two connections so that more houses could be built.

Mr Z Mlenzana's (COPE Eastern Cape) first question pertained to the rectification programme of demolition and rebuilding structures. The Committee was told that by 2029 3 000 houses in the Eastern Cape would undergo such a program, how many houses had been demolished to date? How many structures had been put in place? He also suggested that a major problem in this housing issue was that there were contractors that would put up structures and 'run away with the metal', so to speak. As described, did this new arrangement of norms and standards include a kind of service level agreement with the contractors and developers, as a way to measure output and the manner in which they comply to the standards? If there was, one would like to know further. What would happen in the case of a breach of such? He added that a movement towards a 'name and shame' project came to mind during the presentation.

Mr M Jacobs (ANC Free State) would like to know if there were norms and standards for the site itself. In the past people had only been given a very small parcel of land, but even in this era of democratic government, people still only had a very small site. If in the future a person had the resources to expand his home, would they have the space to do so? And was there a plan for municipalities to adhere to the norms and standards? MECs had not adopted these new norms and standards yet, perhaps because there were certain problems with them? He pointed out that the issue of mildew was not only confined to Western Cape, but could be found wherever it was damp, including his constituency in the Eastern Cape. Finally, he inquired if township boards were still in use, and if so, if they were placed under the auspices of the NDHS, or another department?

Mr R Tau (ANC Northern Cape) was quite concerned that some municipalities were refusing to accept the adjusted norms and standards. It was unclear as to whether the problem lay in a lack of political expediency or lack of communication and consistency in the executive. He also asked Mr Van der Walt to clarify if the Cabinet had already approved the new norms and standards. He informed the Committee that he attended the launch of the renewable energy programme in the Northern Cape with Minister of Energy, Dipou Peters, and in her address she made the statement to the audience that from now on houses were going to be constructed in line with current norms and standards. Now hearing that there were municipalities that were resisting this was concerning. MINMEC did not arrive at a decision but opted to further engage on this particular matter before any conclusion, but the Minister of Energy had already communicated that houses were going to be constructed in line with current energy efficiency norms and standards. He could only imagine what would happen in the next six months when a house was constructed in his own constituency, what kind of conflict would this raise between local municipality, provincial and national entities. He asked for clarity on this matter.

The Chairperson asked beside MINMEC, what other consultations had there been with the local municipalities? He reiterated Mr Jacobs' concerns about norms and standards for the land site. For instance, if a local municipality allowed people to build on wetlands and they had been living there for a period of at least three months, the law prohibited one from then removing them. He believed that continued engagement with various levels of local government was important and would make a difference. He was also concerned that although the NHBRC had been in place since April 2002, and that only now municipalities had decided not to implement these changes, so what had changed or transpired between 2002 and now? The Chairperson asked for clarity on the statement on slide 9, that any deviation to lesser norms and standards would result in an unauthorized expenditure, but the department had not been enrolling any houses, so which plans were being referred to?

Mr Neville Chainee (Deputy Director General: Strategy & Planning, NDHS) responded to these inquiries. In terms of the understanding between the department and the provinces and municipalities, there was a development agreement based on norms and standards created at the national level – provinces and municipalities could not build at a standard below that level, and the minimum standards were aligned to the 2002 NHBRC Act. Anything else could not be approved, otherwise it becomes an illegal payment. It must also comply with the South African Bureau of Standards (SABS).

In response to the township boards question, the Special Land Use Management Bill was in process of being enacted and that established responsibility for all planning and regulatory responsibilities. The Act would provide the regulatory framework for all planning and regulations. The building regulations sat with DTI and whatever DTI put in place, the NDHS would have to comply with from 1 April. National building regulations that came into place was for all homes in South Africa. To put members at ease, Mr Chainee emphasized that any non-compliance that was outside norms and standards had to comply with SABS, otherwise building plans and services would not get approved.

Mr Mbulelo Tshangana (Deputy Director General: Programme and Monitoring Unit, NDHS) clarified the question of MINMEC's reluctance to approve the regulations, and explained that municipalities were refusing to approve building plans that did not comply with national norms and standards, not that they were refusing to implement the new regulation, they were refusing plans that did not comply with the new standards. MINMEC's deliberations and concerns were aligned with those of Mr Groenewald. The department had set targets and the question was how would this plan affect those targets. Delivering a higher-quality product came at a premium and would limit the number of houses that could be built. MINMEC was concerned with how to implement these new norms and standards without making a big impact on the targets set for next five years. MINMEC had decided that the new norms and standards should be implemented but the question lay in how the plans would be operationalised. On concerns about the SCCCA variation, he explained that the building variations would eventually be implemented nationwide, but the SCCCA area would be prioritized. He did not have exact figures on rectification in the Eastern Cape.

Ms Funani Matlatsi (Chief Financial Officer, NDHS) reiterated Mr Tshangana's point that MINMEC's concern did not lie with the new norms and standards themselves, but with the drop in the resulting number of houses built. In order to bridge the discrepancy between the current and future subsidy, the department had approached National Treasury. She reminded the Chairperson that these differences came at time when the budget had already been drawn up, and was already in line with the business plan. The CFO was confident that should the department's request to National Treasury be granted, implementation of the new norms and standards would take off as soon as possible.

Mr Martin Maphisa (Deputy Director General of Policy, NDHS) stressed that the number of electrical connections needed was a question of safety. As for the question of service level agreements with contractors and developers, the NHBRC was also a consumer protection act for the NDHS, and held contractors and developers accountable by law for any insufficient work or construction. However, the NHBRC only applied to houses built after its passage (1994).

Ms Sinisiwe Ngxongo (Chief Operating Officer, NDHS) agreed that the concerns over the new norms and standards were justified and credible, as were concerns about the rectification program, but if the new norms and standards were approved, there would be no need for rectification in the long run. The department needed to comply with the building regulations; the only challenge at this stage was in the implementation.

Returning to the question of contractor and developer oversight, Mr Tshangana pointed out that all housing projects must be registered with the NHBRC, plus additional levels of provincial or municipal management and oversight.

Mr Mlenzana raised the question of standards on sizes and the issue of townships once again, as his previous question had not been addressed yet.

Ms L Mabija (ANC, Limpopo) pointed out that in areas where temperatures were high and there was very low winter rainfall, people sat outside of their homes at night because 40 square meters was very small. This lifestyle led to drinking and crime. One could not survive in these areas without air conditioning.

Mr Groenewald argued that the vision government and the department should have was that among the poorest of the poor, the most important thing was to have a roof over their head. He believed that electrifying homes was fine but these plans were putting luxury into houses, where do these amenities stop? He agreed that the government must provide quality houses but with these norms and standards the state would have to build fewer houses and would never service the backlog.

Mr Tau disagreed with Mr Groenwald's use of the word 'luxury' to refer to what he saw as simply raising the bar in order to improve the lives of ordinary South Africans, and an attempt to create a safe environment. This could never be reduced to luxury. This was one area where the department should be commended. This was one area where inequality in South Africa could be lessened. He did not think the department was wrong in its direction, but questioned at what point do the provinces, municipalities, and general community have a buy in? And how could the Committee assist the department to resolve these problems? How did the department respond to challenges together with the Financial and Fiscal Committee (FFC), Treasury and others? He believed that a lack of consistency in communication from the executive with the provincial and municipal levels was a recipe for unnecessary crisis, and it was important that they were properly coordinated.

Mr Jacobs suggested that Mr Tau should save his statement for a policy debate. If the NHBRC was doing its duty, this would not leave the department simply having to move forward on its own. Who had submitted the plans that the municipality was refusing to approve?

The Chairperson inquired about the relationship between rural subsidies and the norms and standards. And what of the Finance-Linked Individual Subsidy Program?

Mr Chainee reiterated that the national building regulations applied equally to all, and there was no discrimination if you stayed in rural area. In applying a subsidy, there was no difference. Service to the sites was regulated by the municipal and servicing standards based on engineering standards contained in the national housing code.

Pre-1994 'township boards' responsibilities had now been taken up by respective committee systems in the municipalities. Mr Chainee reminded members that the Constitutional Court ruled that all aspects related to planning municipal space was the responsibility of the municipality, and needed to be approved by Parliament and the necessary regulation and approval bodies.

Part of the National Building Regulations came into place to deal with houses with internal temperatures that fluctuate drastically, to ensure that energy efficient usage is applied in subsidized housing (included in the minimal quality standards). Energy efficient houses would be much cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter.

Referring back to the subject of developer/contractor oversight, building underwent three inspections: 1) municipal 2) provincial 3) and the NHBRC (part of the subsidy goes to an enrolment fee to cover the inspection). The 1994 - 2002 era was a bit of a free for all, but in the post-2002 period the department had gotten better. SABS had a new CEO so compliance and oversight was improving.

Mr Van der Walt explained that it was not possible to establish a standard size parcel for the entire nation, the needs varied tremendously for each area. The department would like to have each area designed with the people and their consent so that they understand the cost drivers. Designers should adhere to the Red Book.

Mr Tshangana revisited the service agreement discussion, and explained that developers and responsible implementing agencies were the provinces, who delegate to municipalities. In the event that a contract had failed there were processes to follow. The department was aware that there were instances where the department was not involved with the contractor so it was the community that was responsible, but if the project was registered with the NHBRC, there were contract management capabilities.

Mr Mlenzana asked whether the department was really equipped. The situation that the department saw itself in now, in terms of poor workman ship, was not created at the national level, it happened at the lower levels, but rectification happened at the national level. He asked perhaps it was a policy matter as far as channelling the funds. He asked the CFO if it was her decision to vote for this particular fund. He knew that homes had been built in his own constituency, but expected to hear how many houses had been built in each province.

Mr Tau pointed out that there was a mushrooming of construction, and to what extent could NHBRC manage this? He shared an anecdote of a friend that was defrauded by a contractor and the NHBRC was unable to help him.

The Chairperson asked about the MINMEC ministerial arrangement and what communications were being made between the two entities.

Mr Chainee explained that there were a number of standing task forces between the department, provinces, and municipalities, and the NHBRC had conducted a public advocacy campaign.

Mr Chainee responded that townships got their approval from municipalities, but any re-zoning that happened within a township had to comply with a number of conditions.

Ms Matlatsi explained that the budget for rectification sat with the provinces because of the terms of the Division of Revenue Act.

The Chairperson congratulated Mr Chainee on his new appointment as the Head of Department for the Ekurhuleni metro area. He praised Mr Chainee on his commendable effort and wished him luck with his new endeavour, and explained that this was why the Chairperson was emphasizing the interaction between national and provincial levels.

Adoption of Minutes
The Committee adopted the minutes of 14 May 2013 and 21 May 2013

The meeting was adjourned.
 

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