Understanding the impact of government housing on environmental sustainability and social justice

This article was published in the journal Environment and Urbanization in March 2020. It contributes to the Just Sustainability Transitions project, and is one of the articles published as part of Christina Culwick Fatti's PhD.

Southern cities face the challenge of planning development to accommodate the growing populations and meet their basic service needs, while at the same time minimising environmental degradation, high resource consumption, pollution, and social and economic exclusion.

Government housing developments can play an important role in raising living standards for the poor, particularly for people living in informal housing. However, these developments have often been critiqued for the negative implications they can have on environmental, social and economic systems.

A recently published paper in Environment and Urbanization, argues for nuance in assessing government housing projects with respect to their impact on social justice and environmental sustainability. This study found that government housing developments in Gauteng have contributed in some ways to enhancing both social justice and environmental sustainability. However, there are also instances where outcomes have been negative for one or both of these goals.

To assess some of the justice and sustainability implications of government housing developments in Gauteng, the paper uses empirical data from the GCRO’s Quality of Life V (2017/18) survey and interviews with residents of the Lufhereng and Pennyville housing developments. The survey data provide an aggregated picture of government housing developments in Gauteng Province, and the resident interviews allow for more detailed insights into the lives of people in these developments. The data and interviews provided insights into various factors including access to services, accessibility, and income and employment of residents living in government housing developments.

The data reveal that people in Gauteng's government housing developments have significantly improved access to basic services and amenities than people living informally, but government housing tends to be poorly located with regard to economic opportunities, and residents are forced to explore other income generation opportunities.

Lead author and GCRO Senior Researcher, Christina Culwick Fatti, highlights that outcomes of government housing developments would be significantly improved in terms of both justice and sustainability if government-led public transport were developed in parallel with the housing developments, to support residents in accessing job opportunities affordably. Furthermore, government assistance and incentives for economic opportunities in and around government housing programmes could support both environmental sustainability and social justice imperatives, particularly for settlements with low accessibility and long average commutes.

“…to help achieve both justice and sustainability imperatives, it is necessary to consider the broader implications of housing – not merely housing as access to adequate accommodation and basic services but the associated access to goods, services, work opportunities and income generation options”

Key points

  • Government housing in Gauteng has significantly improved access to basic services and amenities.
  • Although worse located with respect to economic opportunities, residents in government housing developments have higher income than informal settlements.
  • The private taxi industry and residents’ construction of backyard dwellings have significantly improved accessibility and income for residents in government housing developments.
  • There is a complex interplay between justice and sustainability of government housing projects, where the outcomes are aligned in some instances and conflictual in others.

Recommended citation

Culwick, C. & Patel, Z.(2020). Building just and sustainable cities through government housing developments. Environment and Urbanization. 32(1). p133-154.

For more details, please contact Christina Culwick Fatti [christina.culwick@gcro.ac.za]


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