In a recent article published on EWN titled, “Govt’s new mixed-model housing plan raised more questions than answers”, it was reported that the government intends to hand over serviced land to those who cannot afford to purchase a home. This will be in addition to building RDP houses. This is government’s new mixed model which aims to reduce costs while still assisting those in need of housing.
While this move is a step in the right direction it still does not go far enough to place more power and autonomy in the hands of South Africans. The Institute of Race Relations (IRR) has for years been advocating for the government to provide housing vouchers instead of houses or land. These vouchers can be paid to individuals on a monthly basis and would be a much more effective tool for delivering housing to those who cannot afford to get it on their own.
For example, a voucher worth R800 a month, or R9 600 a year, can be paid to each recipient for ten years. Every beneficiary would thus receive R96 000 over a ten-year period. Couples or family members can pool the vouchers they receive and add it to their own income. This would then allow them to purchase or build a home of their own, the benefit being that control and autonomy is placed in the hands of recipients instead of the state, which would drastically reduce corruption in public housing. Moreover, this system – and the market that would be created around it – would inevitably lead to a boom in the residential property market, as it would encourage the construction of many new houses and blocks of flats.
What South Africa needs is a sustainable solution to the problem of public housing. This means that government must stop its desire to be a nanny state and control every aspect of our lives. We are more than capable of conducting our own lives as responsible adults; the overwhelming majority of South Africans do not want the state to interfere. They want the state to create an environment in which they can pursue the life that they want, whatever that may look like, and as long as it doesn’t interfere with the freedom of others to live as they please. Moreover, the government cannot afford to build a house for every single person who cannot afford it, neither can it afford to acquire land to hand out. Housing vouchers would be a cost-effective tool that still assists those who need assistance.
Vouchers could not only allow South Africans to live without government interference in their housing but could be introduced in other areas as well. The IRR has also proposed school vouchers as a policy that would place control over children’s education in the hands of their parents or legal guardians. Instead of paying teachers or funding schools directly the government would hand parents and guardians vouchers that would cover tuition at any public school of their choosing for a year. In addition to giving parents control, this measure would also introduce some much-needed competition in public schooling. Poorly performing schools would be punished by parents placing their children in other schools. The same can happen in healthcare, where instead of paying healthcare workers, the government could give every South African healthcare vouchers that could be redeemed at any public hospital or clinic. These would enable individuals to choose where they wish to be treated and, like the school voucher, would introduce competition into the system without negatively affecting South Africans.
According to data from the IRR’s 2020 edition of the South Africa Survey, the country spent R344.3 billion on education and post-school education and training in 2018/19. The voucher system would ensure that we start seeing value for money. In 2019/20 we spent R218.1 billion on health. This is according to the IRR’s aforementioned South Africa Survey. Yet, despite this huge sum we invest we have all seen the dire state of our public hospitals and clinics where one can expect to spend an entire day waiting for the most basic medical care. Introducing a voucher system would ensure that hospitals and clinics compete to deliver the best service possible, or individuals will opt for another hospital or clinic.
The government under the African National Congress has for years failed to deliver on the most basic services, including public housing. This is not to discredit the progress the government has made since 1994. Between now and then the government has built more than 3 million public housing units according to Africa Check, and this is an achievement in itself, but South Africans need more. But what we do not need is more government intervention. Housing vouchers are the model that the government should be pursuing, instead of adopting endless variations of centralized control over our lives.
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