Housing crisis no more?

Section 26 of Chapter 2 of the Constitution states that "everyone has the right to have access to adequate housing". The Gauteng Department of Housing is working on just that by implementing the new Siyasizana programme, which specifically targets this basic human right among other essential human rights.

The expanded social package, known as Siyasizana or ESP for short, was created to replace the former indigent subsidy system from 1 July 2009 with an entirely new system of benefits. According to the City of Johannesburg it has designed ESP in such a way that its prime focus is the indigent and poverty stricken. The system is a national pilot for Social Development's National Integrated Social Information System, which combines information from provincial and national bodies such as: 

  • The Unemployment Insurance Fund
  • The South African Social Security Administration
  • The Department of Housing
  • The Department of Home Affairs
This system is designed to verify citizens' eligibility without the poor being required to produce any documents to prove their "poverty". 

The City's objective is to create awareness of ESP as the system being implemented as part of its poverty alleviation strategy. Job creation is a central and integral part of ESP. So far more than 650 000 citizens living in the City have qualified, and almost 9000 people have been placed in income generating opportunities since enrolling with ESP. According to Accenture South Africa, the programme is the only register of the indigent in the country that operates as a "one-stop" shop for poor people who need to access government and welfare services. 

ESP also provides benefits for those who have special needs and require social assistance. The benefits assist those with an HIV positive status, disability, or very low basic skills levels, among other things. The system has introduced a poverty index measured by a score out of 100 points. The points are given based on a number of factors, including income, personal circumstances and how deprived the area they are living in is compared with the rest of Johannesburg. The higher the score, the poorer the City regards that person. The different scores give the City an understanding of the level of assistance the person requires. ESP works with three different levels of assistance known as: 
  • Band 1: The lowest level of subsidy (borderline poverty).
  • Band 2: The middle level of subsidy (earns some formal income which falls below survival level).
  • Band 3: The highest level of subsidy (no formal income living in the most deprived circumstances).
Those who qualify are eligible for certain benefits. These include subsidies on water, electricity, transport and rental; for property owners: subsidies on rates, sanitation and refuse removal charges. People who are registered for ESP will be prioritised for access to employment programmes through the Job Pathways Programme, which is designed to help people become economically self-sufficient. The ESP system aims to SMS technology to connect citizens with services provided by a host of partners with ESP. The use of SMS technology will make it easier for the City to communicate with those benefiting from ESP, and to provide effective communication with various role-players, such as non-governmental organisations and social workers. 

The next important question is, how does one register and who qualifies? Anyone earning less than ZAR3 681 a month residing as owner or tenant on a property falling within the boundaries of Johannesburg is eligible to register. According to IOL, the City has an estimated 800 000 to one million people who earn below the ZAR3 681 threshold. Registration takes place at 10 customer service centres and 30 offices across the City. Applicants are required to bring their: 
  • South African ID (or ID number with the document to be produced within six months), passport or driver's license.
  • A copy of the City utilities account for the property on which they live.
  • If they are Eskom customers they will also have to provide their Eskom account.
  • If they have a pre-paid water or an electricity meter, they must bring their meter number.
Homeless people can register as having no formal address. They will not qualify for the property benefits and subsidies, however, they will be eligible for a transport subsidy. People living in informal settlements with no City accounts will not qualify for the property benefits and subsidies, but will be eligible for transport and rent subsidies as well as assistance in finding employment through the Job Pathways Programme. The categories of people who qualify are those with: 
  • HIV positive status
  • Difficulty due to other terminal diseases
  • Disability
  • Advanced age
  • Very low basic skill level
  • Residing in a child-headed household
  • Residing in a pensioner-headed household
  • Residing in a single-parent household
  • History of abuse
  • History of substance dependency
  • Ex-combat status
The City plans to make ESP accessible to at least 500 000 people a year. As with any programme aimed at alleviating or reducing the effects of poverty there will be many challenges along the way. The long waiting lists are examples of various administrative delays. However, for those who have already benefited this is a step closer to economic freedom. 

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