The Transaction Support Centre (TSC), was selected out of 151 submissions as a Top 4 finalist under the Best Practices category for the Africa Housing Forum Innovation Awards 2022. The awards aim to demonstrate the importance of strategic collaboration that fosters innovations in affordable housing solutions, especially through people-public-private partnerships.
Launched in 2018, the TSC is an action-research project that supports formal tenure and property rights for low-income urban households in South Africa. The project is a joint initiative of affordable housing think-tank, CAHF and research and data consultancy, 71point4.
“We are delighted to receive this global recognition for the TSC project”, says Kecia Rust, Executive Director at the Centre for Affordable Housing Finance in Africa (CAHF) and co-founder of the TSC project.
Since its inception, the TSC has logged over 1 400 client cases. “The majority of clients come to the TSC for help with resolving title deed issues, which stem from informal property market transactions that have taken place in the past, properties not being transferred out of deceased estates, and the large title deed backlog on government-subsidised properties,” says Illana Melzer, Director at 71point4.
“We have a unique situation in South Africa where there is a relatively large population of asset-rich but cash poor property-owning households due to the Government’s subsidised housing programme. These households simply cannot afford the legal costs and expenses to formally transfer a property. And due to the title deed backlog, some households can’t engage with the formal system even if they wanted to” says Melzer. Beyond the cost of transfers, the current administrative processes are slow, cumbersome, and complicated to navigate. It should be no surprise that off-register transactions are prevalent in lower-income neighbourhoods.
Following a bottom-up approach, the TSC provides hands-on assistance to clients with their various title deed issues and uses these day-to-day experiences and interactions to identify opportunities for improvement in policy, legislative and administrative domains. The TSC also works closely with private sector partners including banks and conveyancing firms. “Our private sector partners are critical to the success of the TSC, both in terms of their direct assistance on client cases and their engagement on the broader systemic changes that need attention,” says Rust. The TSC’s recent pilot to offer services out of the FNB branch in Khayelitsha is an example of the potential to leverage the private sector to tackle the very significant title deed challenge in South Africa.
To date the project has helped almost 500 clients receive their title deeds. While the team is thrilled with each and every title deed handout, they realise this is a drop in the ocean compared to the scale of the problem. “In order to create a functioning formal property market which caters to the breadth of its participants, we need to tackle the triple challenge of bringing back properties that have transacted off-register into the formal system (formalisation), tackling the primary transfer backlog (regularisation) and creating an affordable, accessible system that makes it as easy as possible to preserve title going forward (preservation),” says Melzer. The rich evidence base developed over the past three years’ of the TSC’s operation will go a long way in helping to develop a new approach that is so badly needed.
“What many people don’t realise is just how significant the RDP property market is,” says Rust. According to CAHF’s research, roughly one third of the 6.7 million formally registered residential properties in South Africa were built by government and transferred to their owners entirely for free. These properties hold significant economic and wealth distribution potential for beneficiary households. But if the status quo continues, this potential (and the state’s investment) notwithstanding, will remain compromised.
The TSC has achieved a lot in a short period and in the face of numerous challenges, including pivoting to a remote model of working due to Covid. But more needs to be done to really shift the needle on this problem and it will require a dedicated effort across all levels of Government and the private sector, says Rust.
Following its nomination, the TSC has been invited to present the initiative to a panel of judges and audience at the Africa Housing Forum hosted by Habitat for Humanity International Africa on 13 May 2022 in Nairobi, Kenya. For more information about the awards and the other finalists, visit: https://africahousingforum.org/awards/ You can also follow the TSC’s work on its Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/TransactionSupportCentre
The TSC is currently funded by Oppenheimer Generations and is actively supported by the Cities Support Programme of the South African National Treasury.