Housing Crisis
Photo Credit: Supplied

Hope for South Africa’s Housing Crisis looks a lot like this ‘Empower Homes’ initiative!


Khayelitsha, South Africa (19 September 2023) — Earlier this year, Mmamoloko Kubayi, Minister for Human Settlements shared change-spurring insight into the severity of South Africa’s housing crisis.

Answering a question to Parliament, she stated that 1.9 million South African households, or 11.4% of the population, live in informal dwellings. According to the latest statistics, around 17% of Western Cape households live in informal settlements while Cape Town’s housing backlog is over 325,000 households and rising.

But, there is hope and Cape Town-based NPO Urban Think Tank Empower (UTTE) has developed a radical housing model, ‘Empower Homes’ in Khayelitsha!

This model has showcased that dignified, affordable housing can become a reality for all South Africans with the right support.

Phase one of UTTE’s Empower Homes (which began in 2013) initiative has already helped to transform the lives of over 350 Khayelitsha residents living in 72 Empower homes designed in line with their needs and cultural values.

Here are a few highlights UTTE thinks could be a game-changer for the housing crisis in South Africa:


Building double-storey homes upwards instead of outwards has helped to make the best use of scarce available land while maximising living space. This is particularly important given that the average number of people per informal settlement dwelling is relatively high.

The People’s Design

Another important innovation involves giving the residents a direct say in designing their own homes and their own neighbourhoods. As a result, Empower Homes provides decent housing for families within their existing communities without relocating them to random, potentially remote RDP sites.

RDP’s Gaps

Commenting on the gaps in current housing provision, Delana Finlayson, Managing Director at UTTE, says:

“No one can challenge the admirable intentions behind RDP housing.

However, the programme’s focus on quantity over quality has produced houses that do not always meet the needs of the people living in them.”

UTTE believed that scaling up and replicating its housing model can help with housing security that allows needs to be met better.

Paving the Way for Phase Two

Drawing on lessons learned during phase one of the Empower campaign, UTTE is now poised to deliver even more dignified, affordable homes as phase two gets underway.

This phase will start with the construction of another 70 Empower homes along with public spaces and shared assets such as a community hall, urban farm and solar power installation. Next steps are said to involve expanding the project to nine more sites in Khayelitsha.

Long-term, UTTE is confident that its Empower Upgrade Model is capable of playing an instrumental role in ending South Africa’s housing crisis by delivering more new Empower homes to more communities in the years ahead.

Commenting on the project’s transformative impact, Alderman Eddie Andrews, Deputy Mayor of Cape Town and Mayoral Committee Member for Human Settlements, shared:

“The City of Cape Town is very supportive of the work done by the Empower team and its partners for the people of this community. The team has shown us how much we can achieve through visionary collaborations that combine proven technical know-how with bold innovation to address the very real challenges facing people living in our informal settlements. Further to this, their innovations support our goals to reduce our carbon footprint by using nature-based solutions to our challenges.

“The Empower Upgrade Model also places the wellbeing and aspirations of the community at the forefront of the housing process by restoring dignity, security and hope to community members. This model is a sustainable response to a growing city.”

More About Urban Think Tank Empower

UTTE emerged from Urban-Think Tank Design Group, an international collective that uses the power of architecture and design to uplift the lives of marginalised communities worldwide.

They team up with local community members, government officials, built environment practitioners, impact investors, NGOs and foreign donors to drive change through homes.

Sources: Supplied
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About the Author

Ashleigh Nefdt is a writer for Good Things Guy.

Ashleigh's favourite stories have always seen the hidden hero (without the cape) come to the rescue. As a journalist, her labour of love is finding those everyday heroes and spotlighting their spark - especially those empowering women, social upliftment movers, sustainability shakers and creatives with hearts of gold. When she's not working on a story, she's dedicated to her canvas or appreciating Mother Nature.

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