The LRC's housing and planning strategy is designed to contribute to the process of building a constitutional democracy. It has three complementary legs:
to create a new jurisprudence that defines, protects, respects, promotes and fulfils the rights of the poor;
to help those in need on a client-by-client basis; and
to work co-operatively with government and other organisations in sharing information in the interests of the most marginalised members of South Africa.
To this end, the LRC has challenged the assumption that underpins many attempts made to evict. The assumption is that people can be moved without regard for the consequences. The LRC's litigation work has forced authorities and landlords to confront the fact that, at its most basic, human dignity can only be maintained in a context where shelter is a reality. The LRC has taken a series of cases that has made it difficult to evict people where they have nowhere else to go. It has also attempted to enable clarity to be provided with regard to what it is that government has to do to realise the right to housing. It has further been involved in actions that ensure that government fulfils such obligations. Violations of rights and poor governance typically hit the poor and most vulnerable groups the hardest - in particular women and children - and can simultaneously breed instability and political extremism.
The areas of LRC's work in Housing & Planning
A. Evictions in urban areas including:
Defending those occupying informal housing from inequitable evictions
Defending residents of informal settlements against evictions
Ensuring that the courts consider ‘all relevant circumstances’ prior to issuing an eviction order to a homeless, informal shack dweller
Ensuring that the courts consider ‘all relevant circumstances’ prior to issuing an eviction order to a homeowner threatened with losing his/her shelter due to non-payment
B. Defining the right to housing and shelter in urban areas including:
Giving further clarity to the constitutional right of access to housing
Securing adequate permanent housing for the homeless
Challenging administrative obstacles and unfair procedures inhibiting housing provision
C. Seeking remedies and tenure for those “desperately in need”:
This work focuses on seeking court orders where government is ordered to comply with Grootboom decision (around remedies for the poor) and other subsequent cases such as Cape Killarney (which sought a policy that included the issue of the availability of land).
D. Ensuring access to basic services:
Increasingly, local authorities have accepted that they cannot move thousands of people living in informal settlements out of their municipal area and have put plans in place to provide every citizen with emergency services and, over time, full services. However, implementation often does not extend to all those it should and the LRC is called on to assist residents to secure basic services and to help them in their interactions with local authorities.
E. The housing subsidy system:
The housing subsidy system aims to ensure all South Africans have access to housing. However, a number of problems exist with regard housing waiting lists and the delivery of the housing developments themselves. A number of the development projects require advance fees to be paid which precludes participation by the poorest. Once received, housing is often found to fall far short of minimum building standards. The subsequent costs of occupation can become intolerable, especially for unemployed people.
F. Rental housing:
The Rental Housing Act requires government to develop its rental housing stock as one of the mechanisms through which access to housing for all can be achieved. In terms of the Act, Rental Tribunals need to be set up in every province to enable tenants to have a forum in which to lodge complaints. At this stage there does not appear to be a programme to increase government's capacity to provide housing through rentals. In addition, the Rental Tribunals and their complaints mechanism fall short of what is required to meet statutory obligations.
G. The rights of beneficiaries of government housing assistance programmes:
There are important questions regarding legal protection for those who have already received houses, including whether they should be entitled to sell their houses after delivery (government has introduced an eight year restriction on re-sale) and the extent to which the houses should be attachable for debts incurred by the beneficiary (recently argued before the Constitutional Court).
H. Participation in law reform processes:
Over the last year, submissions were made with regard to the amendments to the Prevention of Illegal Eviction and Unlawful Occupation Act (PIE). The LRC expects to make further submissions with regard to further amendments to PIE and to comment on the intended Social Housing Bill.
Prior to the advent of democracy, the relationship between the LRC and the apartheid government was, understandably, adversarial. Now we continually liaise with the authorities both in respect of law reform and about how to improve housing delivery. Meetings have been held with provincial and local government authorities over the last years and these are increasing in regularity. During the course of this, LRC lawyers have often been asked by various departments to outline the problems that we have identified in the course of our work in the hope that solutions more consistent with policy can be found.
LRC lawyers also try to ensure that the lessons learnt in our various cases are shared with others. The LRC also has a history of co-operation with other civil society organisations (CSO). They often refer clients to one another – housing NGOs send people with legal problems to the LRC; and people seeking to involve themselves in the housing subsidy system are referred on to organisations such as Development Action Group (DAG) and others in the Urban Sector Network (a national network of urban housing NGOs such as DAG).
They LRC has acted on behalf of these organisations when they have decided to intervene in court matters as an amicus – such as in the case of Grootboom. These co-operative relationships with CSOs enable work to be better informed and clients to be better assisted.