The National Department of Human Settlements estimates that there are over 1.1 million title deeds that have yet to be registered or formally issued on subsidy houses. Occupants in these houses have been living there for many years, without any formal security of tenure. This clearly undermines the wealth creation objectives of the housing subsidy programme. It also undermines the performance of local property markets, fuels contestation around property ownership within families and communities, and creates enormous challenges for municipalities who cannot effectively engage with property owners around key activities such as billing and building plan approval.
Several blockages and barriers prevent title deeds from being registered or formally issued. In many historical subsidy housing projects, there are no registered general plans. In the general rush to build houses, project managers and professional teams may not have concluded the land assembly processes, and accordingly the Township Registers cannot be “opened” and title deeds registered. Resolving this impediment may take a long time.
In addition, because it has been so long since the property was originally handed over to the approved beneficiary, this beneficiary may no longer be in occupation or locatable. Original beneficiaries may have died, married, got divorced or sold their properties. Housing authorities must therefore determine who lives in each property and who claims ownership. These claims must be validated before the property can be transferred.
Given the complexity of the problem, it is not surprising that progress in tackling the “title deeds backlog” has been limited. But there is a growing body of knowledge and emerging best practice around the core processes that must be navigated to issue a title deed to the rightful owner. Some of this experience and knowledge has been compiled into the Primary Transfer Toolkit, in a collaborative effort between the Transaction Support Centre, National Treasury’s Cities Support Programme, and the World Bank Group.
The Primary Transfer Toolkit comprises two components:
- Land and Planning Regularisation Toolkit (Land / Legal Toolkit for short), which guides municipalities through the various legal processes required to open a township register for the project
- Beneficiary Administration & Transfer Toolkit, which guides housing authorities – municipalities and provinces – through the determination of the rightful owner and the subsequent property transfer process
The toolkits are intended to be “living documents” that will be adjusted as the policies, guidelines, capabilities, processes and technologies that support the primary transfer process mature.
The Land / Legal Toolkit
The ‘Land / Legal Toolkit’ was prepared by GeoAfrika with funding from the IFC supported by Seco and the World Bank Group. The purpose of the Land / Legal Toolkit is to assist officials and professionals involved in Subsidy Scheme housing projects to systematically address the complexities of assembling the land parcels that make up a ‘Project Outside Figure’ while at the same time linking this process to the Development Rights obtained and which may require material amendments. In the case of the so-called ‘blocked’ Projects, the toolkit sets out the primary steps involved in conducting the land and development rights audit. It outlines the steps to systematically ‘unblock’ the project to enable the transfer of ownership to be effected (with or without interventions outside of the traditional administrative and legislative processes) and to achieve this in the shortest time frame possible. This may very well involve seeking the assistance and direction of our courts in cases where the current ‘legislative tools’ would result in unreasonable time frames that will result in this initiative taking years to show meaningful progress.
Peter Hoffmann and Chris Carter of GeoAfrika note that even larger municipalities may not have the specialist skills “in-house” to deal with the legal complexities evident in many of the affected Subsidy Scheme projects.
“While officials can use the toolkit to help guide them through the process and to understand what is involved, municipalities will need to bring in experts to assist. Skilled professionals will be able to identify all the underlying constraints during the land and development rights audit and help municipalities chart a way forward.” – GeoAfrika
Figure 1: The Land / Legal Toolkit covers four main steps
The Beneficiary Administration & Transfer Toolkit
The ‘Beneficiary Administration & Transfer Toolkit’ was prepared by 71point4 Consulting of the Transaction Support Centre (TSC). The contents of the toolkit are based on the experiences of the TSC in transferring subsidy houses in three subsidy housing projects in Makhaza, Khayelitsha, involving over 770 properties. In preparing the toolkit, the TSC team worked closely with Stefan Grobler and Coenraad Calitz of the Tenure Administration and Transfers department in the City of Cape Town’s Human Settlements Directorate. Funding to prepare the toolkit was provided by a grant from National Treasury’s Cities Support Programme to GTAC.
The Beneficiary Administration & Transfer Toolkit picks up once the Township Register is “Open”. Housing authorities can start the process of gathering data from and about beneficiaries and occupants to determine who is living in the property, who has a rightful claim to the property and what the subsidy status of occupants / ‘self-assessed’ owners are.
“In some cases it can be relatively simple to identify owners and transfer properties to them. In other cases, it is more complex; beneficiaries may have died and / or properties have been sold to new owners. There may be disputes about who owns the property. It is also not uncommon to find that households who purchased properties informally do not, in fact, qualify for subsidies. While some policies call for these households to be evicted, this is completely counter-productive. In the first instance, it is not at all clear that housing authorities will be able to secure eviction orders through the courts. In addition, where households know that they may face the risk of eviction it is highly unlikely that they will participate in the process. Beyond this, evictions will further destabilise communities that are already vulnerable. Where properties have been purchased by non-qualifiers, the toolkit outlines a simple, fair process to enable them to become registered property owners”. – Illana Melzer, 71point4
Figure 2: The Beneficiary Administration & Transfer Toolkit covers for main steps
Have your say!
Officials and all other interested and affected parties are invited to comment on the toolkits during the month of May and June. Comments on the Land / Legal toolkit can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org while comments on the Beneficiary administration toolkit can be sent to email@example.com.
Once comments have been received, the project team will arrange a series of webinars to take officials through the amended toolkits. These webinars will take place during July. In addition, the TSC is actively looking to collaborate with a housing authority to take the Beneficiary administration toolkit on the next step of its maturity journey. This entails the development of sound systems and processes to handle the vast amounts of personal data that feeds into the process. In addition, there is significant scope to streamline processes of gathering data from occupants and obtain required data from various administrative sources including the Housing Subsidy System, Home Affairs and the Deeds Office. There is also scope to automate key processes and to categorise cases and identify the next steps in the transfer process. Beyond this, it is critical to have a robust ‘case management system’ to enable housing authorities to manage the transfer process. Seth Maqetuka, the Human Settlements Coordinator of the National Treasury’s Cities Support Programme, has been working with the TSC team since it was established.
“We are keen for cities to engage with and use these tools to improve their processes in realising formal title for their residents. The backlog demands a much more efficient approach. We hope this toolkit will make a big difference in pace, scale and success of their efforts.” – Seth Maqetuka