Advocacy Toolkits

Medium-Density Housing Toolkit

The medium-density housing toolkit sets out to support DAG staff to effectively engage with the role of medium-density housing to reconfigure South Africa’s socially, racially and functionally segregated settlements through the release of sustainable, equitable and efficient use of well located land for affordable mixed-use, mixed-income, medium density housing developments.

The overall medium-density housing advocacy objective is to successfully advocate for integrated and efficient urban land management policies and practices which facilitate access to housing and well-located, serviced land for South Africa’s poor and marginalised citizens. More specifically, DAG seeks to strengthen a densification and land management agenda that will improve the understanding of DAG staff, local government officials, politicians, civil society, CBOs, NGOs and other stakeholders of the role, practices and policies of medium-density housing, particularly public rental housing on well-located land for marginalised citizens, in achieving sustainable human settlements and to build their capacity in the conceptualisation and implementation of medium-density housing projects

The medium-density housing toolkit will assist in the organisation’s aim to have a competent, skilled workforce and capable organisation, toward appropriate partnerships with government and civil society that result in concrete approaches to successfully secure access to well-located serviced land for marginalised citizens.

Some guiding questions derived from DAG’s approach to inform the outputs of the medium-density toolkit, especially the position paper, include the following:

  • What is important for DAG staff to understand / learn in terms of upskilling?
  • What do staff need to be able to lobby, advocacy and influence effectively?
  • What does not work currently regarding policy and practice of subsidised rental housing? (e.g. social housing policy)
  • What are the reasons for it not happening? (e.g. government resource constraints, NIMBYism)
  • What are the solutions? (e.g. partnerships, resources, demand, etc.)
  • What are the regulatory and fiscal instruments to support medium-density housing delivery? (e.g. zoning, inclusionary housing)
  • What are the benefits of subsidised medium-density housing?

DAG has a vision to create a new urban order in South African cities, which would reverse current apartheid planning, and believes that to address the structural causes of urban poverty and inequality, cities and urban land, should be planned and managed equitably. Most importantly, the State must promote the social value of urban land over the private consumption of land and its financial value. This includes developing integrated, medium-density, mixed-income neighbourhoods in well-located areas which are inclusive of the poor.

To achieve this, the State would have to raise additional revenue through the application of fiscal tools and employ regulatory tools to plan cities equitably – so that the poor can gain access to the vast resources, amenities, services and opportunities the city affords them. This would also require transparency and accountability in State land management and housing policy and practice and an informed and engaged civil society to influence decisions in the interests of the poor and hold government to account.

DAG’s goal is to see efficient urban land management policies and tools in practice, which facilitate access to adequate housing and well-located, serviced land for South Africa’s poor and marginalised citizens. The medium-density housing toolkit should be informed by and prepared against DAG’s goal and the Strategic Objectives set out below:

Create an effective and accountable State capable of developing and implementing land management policies and practices which facilitate inclusion of poor and marginalised urban citizens

The urban land market constrains affordable housing development in South Africa. Land prices in urban areas have increased phenomenal rates, making well-located land unaffordable for the State to develop affordable housing and public rental property. This calls for decisive State action to regulate the land market and political will to reverse inequality in land distribution. In light of this, DAG advocates for the implementation of ‘value capture’: a means for the State to recoup the increment in land value accruing to private land owners through public investment in infrastructure. Thus, increasing available municipal for pro-poor development and deterring anti-social land speculation. DAG also advocates to ensure equitable redistribution of this revenue.

Create a vibrant, informed and active civil society which is able to articulate, demand and lobby the State to meet the needs of the urban poor.

Many poor urban dwellers are victimised by the policies of the State and markets because they lack capacity to advocate for their constitutional rights and make their interests known to decision-makers through the correct platforms and processes.

For instance, in informal settlements in well-located areas like Joe Slovo (N2 Gateway) mass removals and relocation of residents have been allowed to happen unchecked. This is in contrast to communities such as Freedom Park in Tafelsig where DAG has supported leaders of civil society groups to successfully advocate for secure access to well-located land, services and housing.

DAG builds capacity of local civil society groups, community based organisations and social movements through ongoing engagement and through capacity building programmes. DAG facilitates strategic opportunities for poor communities and their leaders to participate in urban development and governance and influence how scarce urban land is used and managed.


The medium-density housing toolkit will consist of the following sets of information, which will be saved on J:\Strategic Land Management Research\Advocacy Toolkits:

  1. A five-page referenced position paper in MS Word format (Arial, 12 font, single spacing) on medium-density housing that succinctly presents DAG’s advocacy message on the role of medium-density housing vis-à-vis its advocacy agenda of integrated and efficient urban land management policies and practices which facilitate access to housing and well-located, serviced land for South Africa’s poor and marginalized citizens.
  2. A list, and where relevant, a summary of policies, legislation, government programmes and projects related to medium-density housing.
  3. Newspaper articles, academic papers, case studies, and other research documents pertaining to medium-density housing.
  4. A list of frequently asked questions and responses on medium-density housing.
  5. Useful quotes, photographs and video material relevant to medium-density housing.
  6. Names and contact details of relevant decision-makers (to be done by DAG staff).
  7. If applicable, names and contact details of community leaders / organisations relevant to the Toolkit topic.
Availability of Information

Sources to be consulted for information on the above deliverables on the medium-density housing toolkit include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • DAG J:drive-folders, including:
    • Medium-density Housing Advocacy
    • Medium-density Housing Impact Area
    • Medium-density Housing Research
    • Library\Medium-density Housing\
    • DAG Art
  • R:\J Drive July 2009\Dag Art\Medium-density Housing Research
  • J:\Strategic Land Management Research\Advocacy Toolkits: sub-folders containing additional information
  • The DAG website, especially the Impact Area position paper
  • The DAG briefing document
  • DAG resource centre and publications including the recently published case studies on Freedom Park, Marconi Beam and Netreg
  • Documents and photographs on the J and R drives regarding Rainbow Housing Cooperative, including J:\Medium Density Housing Advocacy\Reports\UP Book chapter\Final Draft_19Feb10\
  • The DAG publication Sustainable medium-density housing: A resource book
  • The Urban Land Matters electronic issues on medium-density housing
  • Interviews with DAG staff members
  • Interviews with academics, government officials, consultants, community leaders, where applicable.
  • The internet.

Please note that all sources consulted in the formulation of the toolkit must be referenced in a list that will form part of the toolkit.


Weekly meetings will be held between the consultant and DAG project leader. The completion date of the medium-density housing toolkit is 31 May 2010.

Some guidelines for author
  • Abbreviations and acronyms: These should be used sparingly and should be explained at the first occurrence. Abbreviations, acronyms and other conventions (capitals, italics, symbols) should be used consistently throughout the paper, and typed without full points. Thus: GNP; IDP.
  • Measurement, numbers, dates: Metric units are preferred except where historical accuracy demands otherwise. Generally numbers up to and including ten should be expressed in words. Four-figure numbers should have a comma, thus 4,000. Decades should be written ‘the 1950s’. Dates in the text should be written out in full, thus: 24 September 2009.
  • In the text, references should be (Jones, 1985). The title and description of the article or book should be listed in a bibliography at the end, not in the main text or footnotes.
  • References: The list of references should be in alphabetical order of author’s name and in chronological order for each author.

An example of how references are displayed follows:


King, S., and Delatte, N. J. (2004). “Collapse of 2000 Commonwealth Avenue: Punching shear case study.” J. Perf. Constr. Facil., 18(1), 54-61.

Books and reports:

Feld, J., and Carper, K. (1997) Construction failure, 2nd Ed., Wiley, New York.

Chapter in a book:

McDaniel, T.K., Valdivia, R.H. (2005) “New tools for virulence gene discovery,” in Cossart, P, Boquet, P., Normark, S., Rappuoli, R., editors. Cellular microbiology. 2nd ed., ASM Press, Washington, DC, p 473-488.

Conference proceedings and symposia:

Fwa, T. F., Liu, S. B., Teng, K. J. (2004) “Airport pavement condition rating and maintenance-needs assessment using fuzzy logic.” Proc., Airport Pavements: Challenges and New Technologies, ASCE, Reston, VA., 29-38.

Unpublished material:

Unpublished material is not included in the references. It may be cited in the text in the following forms: (John Smith, personal communication, May 16, 1999) or (Jones et al., unpublished manuscript, 2002). As an exception to the rule, articles that are accepted for publication may be included in the references as follows: Gibson, W. (2003). “Cyberspace: The postmodern frontier.” J. Comp. in Fiction, in press.

Web Pages and On-line Material:

Burka, L. P. (2002) “A hypertext history of multiuser dimensions.” MUD history, <> (Dec. 5, 2003).


Liggett, J. A., and Caughey, D. A. (1998) “Fluid statics.” Fluid mechanics (CD-Rom), ASCE, Reston, VA.

  • Footnotes: should be numbered sequentially throughout in Arabic numerals and placed at the foot of each page. They must be embedded in the text (i.e. any footnote additions or deletions will automatically change all the footnote references throughout the paper to accommodate the changes). Footnotes should generally be confined to citations of sources and brief points.
  • Quotations: of more than four lines should be indented in the text and typed without quotation marks. Use single quotation marks in the text for shorter quotes, with punctuation outside the final quote mark. For quotations within quotations use double quotation marks.
  • Miscellaneous:

(i) In all cases where s and z are alternatives, use s, as in ‘organisation’.
(ii) Rands and other currencies thus: R5.00, USD$80,000. For cents write out in full: e.g. 30 cents
(iii) UK spelling to be followed, as in ‘colour’ and ‘labour’.

1. What is medium-density housing?

There is no single definition of medium-density – it’s an abstract concept that means many different things to different people. However, for DAG, densification refers to the ways in which municipalities can increase the number of residential buildings and the number of households living on well-located land close to employment, education, healthcare and transportation as well as museums, beaches, government buildings, parks and other urban resources. More specifically, medium-density housing refers to 40 – 100 dwelling units per hectare (gross), with various residential typologies including: semi-detached housing, row housing and three to four-storey walk-up flats.

2. What does medium-density housing look like?

There are many different kinds of medium-density typologies, including: semi-detached, row housing, maisonettes, courtyard housing, three and four-storey walk-ups, and flats.

3. What is NIMBY-ism?

Middle- and upper-income home-owners often fight against the provision of medium-density low-cost housing in their areas. They site an increase in crime and a decrease in property values as reasons to keep the poor on the periphery. This is NIMBY-ism (Not in My Backyard), which works to perpetuate apartheid planning.

4. Why should medium-density be considered?

There are traditionally four reasons to argue for medium-density housing: it is good for people (social), for the environment (natural), for government (fiscal), and for business (economic). Here is a brief summary of each set of arguments:

South Africa has very segregated cities due to the legacies of colonisation, apartheid and modernist urban planning. Densification is essential for the people of South Africa and helps achieve social equity by: providing the poor with the same access to urban amenities as the rich; promoting inclusive and integrated cities that do not divide people by race and class; and enabling poor communities participate in their development to have a voice in city planning.

Unmitigated urban sprawl is not affordable for the South African government. The State can no longer afford to allow our cities to spread unchecked. It is less expensive to: upgrade inner-city infrastructure, than to build new infrastructure beyond the urban edge; provide the poor with well-located land, than to finance transport subsidies; and ensure families have access to decent, well-paid jobs, than to pay social grants.

Expanding the city outward is dangerous to the South African environment. Unless we change our current development patterns, we will do irreparable harm to our natural world. It is more sustainable to: create environmentally conscious cities, than to devour our finite resources at an unsustainable rate; build medium-density neighbourhoods that enable people to live and work in close proximity, than to heavily rely on the motor car; and develop higher-density housing typologies where walls and materials are shared amongst several units, than to deplete natural resources for construction materials.

The South African economy also suffers from low-densification. Businesses fail because there are not enough people to sustain them. It is more profitable to: enable small and medium sized businesses to be situated near higher concentrations of people to achieve the thresholds necessary to sustain commerce (about 50 dwelling units per hectare).

5. Why is community participation essential?

Communities that participate in development plans are generally more satisfied with the final outcome because their desires are reflected in their living environment. It is very important to enable communities to understand the trade-offs of medium-density housing: sacrificing some privacy and size of their housing unit in exchange for a better location and access to urban opportunities.

6. Doesn’t medium density housing mean/equal creating slums with social problems like we already have on the Cape Flats?

No. There is nothing about the typology of medium-density housing that makes neighbourhoods unsafe or fraught with social problems. Instead, gangsterism and drug use associated with medium-density hostels and flats in the Cape Flats arose as a result of unemployment and poverty. Informal and illegal economies are often the only recourse for residents to survive. In contrast, if medium-density housing is located near employment, education and effective social services, as DAG is proposing, these social problems will be minimized.

7. Doesn’t medium density housing cause overcrowding?

No. Overcrowding is caused when there are too few housing units provided for the population or when housing is unaffordable. When there are not enough housing units or housing units are affordable, informal rental economies develop in backyards where families squeeze together in small shacks, or in overcrowded flats. If South Africa’s cities were well-planned and well-built to provide for all citizens, overcrowding would not be a problem.

8. The apartheid government built flats for ‘second class citizens.’ Why should we settle for medium density housing and not demand nice free-standing houses?

At DAG, we are suggesting that when people move to the city, they should begin to buy-into the notion of urban life. Cities rely on high concentrations of people for economic, scientific and human innovation. Even small grocers and spaza shops cannot be sustained in low-density areas, not to mention schools and social services. This is not to say that everyone must live in medium-density, concentrated housing. Rather, it is about giving households a choice: live in a higher-density typology and enjoy the benefits of the city, or live in a low-density typology on the outskirts.

9. What design features are often requested by communities?

Many low-income residents prioritised the following design elements: play areas for children, community multi-purpose facilities, semi-private laundry lines, and designated trading space. Safety and security were other very important concerns.

10. How can housing be made safer?

Communities that are organised, with resident associations and strong leaders, are generally safe communities. Community activities should be encouraged so residents get to know each other. The design of the housing development should be based on design principles for safety. All common areas should be well-defined and visible from the housing units. Staircases and landings should be shared by a small number of households. The entire complex should be well-lit and well-maintained.

11. How can housing be made more environmentally friendly?

In South Africa there is a lack of knowledge of green building products, technologies, services and design for resource efficiency among most housing stakeholders. The impacts of current settlement design norms – such as single houses on large plots with full-pressure water supply, water borne sewerage, grid electricity and poor insulation – militate against resource efficiency. This is especially problematic in the low-cost housing sector, where the government subsidy produces a standardised and non-innovative dwelling unit, especially when delivered by developers. However, well-built housing, as a fixed asset with a long life, can make a significant contribution to overall environmental sustainability because it consumes large amounts of resources in its construction, maintenance and use. Passive energy efficiency, solar water heaters and photovoltaic pannels, low-energy lighting and heating, gas stoves, urine diversion toilets, and grey water recycling should be encouraged.

12. Why is good location a pre-condition for medium-density housing?

In DAG’s view good location and medium-density housing are two concepts that CANNOT be separated. It is good location – defined by access to employment, industry, commerce, transportation, schools, clinics and public services – that enables people living in medium-density areas to thrive. When people have what they need close by, they spend less money on transportation, spend less time commuting to work, have an easier time finding a job, have more time to spend with their families, and generally have a higher quality of life. For the poor, good location is often the most important factor for their survival – even more than the quality of their housing.

13. Where has medium-density on well-located land worked?

Springfield Terrace, in Cape Town, Sakhasonke Village, in Port Elizabeth, and Carr Gardens in Johannesburg, are highly successful medium-density developments on well-located land.

14. How can medium-density housing transform our urban landscape?

For DAG, medium-density housing should be used as a tool for transformation: to move the formerly dispossessed back onto well-located land, to help prevent dispossession through the ongoing gentrification of urban renewal areas, to integrate historically ‘white’ suburbs and to stimulate commerce in historically disadvantaged areas. Vacant and under-utilised inner-city and other well-located sites should be used to integrate and transform the urban environment, and therefore improve the social and economic situations of city-dwellers.

15. What is value capture?

There are two main categories of instruments that governments can use to convert surplus land value into public value: fiscal tools such as taxes and fees aimed at generating additional revenue for municipalities; and regulatory instruments such as development charges and zoning incentives aimed at directing land use. In South Africa, value capture can provide additional resources to assist the State in improving service delivery, addressing poverty and ultimately achieving more equitable and sustainable cities. Additionally, these mechanisms can be used to control urban sprawl, reduce the perverse effects of land speculation, cope with growing informality in land markets and promote the redistribution of land. South African politicians and officials often try to ensure that the greatest value is derived from the sale or use of State-owned land, but the notion of value capture has been largely absent from our planning discourse to date.

16. How can value capture promote implementation?

There are many instruments that help municipalities to set the priorities for urban development and densification. Some of the most effective from around the world have been:

  • Development and zoning levies, according to Emer O’Siochrú a value capture expert, are like the telecommunications industry. In the telecommunications industry, users are required to pay three different charges: for connection, rental and use. A development levy is similar to a connection charge, as it is based on the cost of being connected to roads, water, waste and other infrastructure. A zoning levy, then, is like a rental charge and is a payment for the use of land. Development and zoning levies should be charged at a progressive rate; poorly serviced rural areas should have lower levies than well-serviced cities. Income from development and zoning levies should be pooled in a government fund and redistributed to redress imbalances in revenue between wealthy and poorer authorities.
  • Zoning provisions stipulate a property owner’s rights in terms of the use and development of a particular parcel of land. Although zoning was historically used to reproduce exclusion under the guise of protecting property rights, more flexible zoning can be used to direct development. Incentive zoning is a land use regulation that encourages the creation of certain amenities and land use designs; incentive zoning, for example, can be used to produce higher densities or discourage wasteful layouts.
  • Exactions are obligations imposed on developers to aid the government in providing public services and can take several forms, such as impact fees, infrastructure contributions and land donations. Exactions are payments that a developer must make to the local authority in exchange for obtaining a permit.
  • ZEIS, or special zones of social interest, are primarily used in Latin America to expand access to urban land for low-income groups. There are four types of areas to which ZEIS can be applied, including: occupied land in favelas, vacant public land, vacant private land, and environmentally protected areas. ZEIS are an attempt to ensure class integration, by preventing market speculation and dampening the price of land. ZEIS can also be used to reserve well-located land for social interest housing, thereby linking land regulation with housing policy.
  • Cross-subsidisation refers to the financing of mixed-income housing developments, using the cost of the more expensive units to subsidies a portion of the less expensive units (either the housing structure itself, or the infrastructure).