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Greening of social housing
© National Geographic Stock / Sarah Leen / WWF

The high price of electricity has a negative impact on South Africa’s urban poor. Many social housing tenants are leaving safe homes for informal accommodation because they can’t afford the utility costs. Retrofitting social housing with cost-effective green technologies is one solution to make it better for all.

What is the issue?

Electricity prices in South Africa have more than doubled since 2010. As electricity prices increase, social housing institutions are struggling to provide housing to those who need it most because the urban poor are unable to pay the bills to power and heat these houses. Because of this, many such tenants are moving into hijacked buildings or informal housing.

The greening of social housing provides a potential solution which addresses both affordability and environmental sustainability. At the moment, retrofitting required to green the energy and water systems in a home are mostly only afforded by affluent people who can invest in the technology.

Despite the long-term cost savings, poorer South Africans – especially those dependent on social housing – are unable to financially invest in green solutions such as a solar water heaters, double glazed windows and water efficient taps, showers and toilets.

The challenge is to find a financing approach versus the institutional arrangements so as to ensure continued affordability of social housing for the urban poor while reducing the impact on the environment.

What are we doing?

WWF developed a pilot project to retrofit an existing housing complex – Boom Flats in Brooklyn, Cape Town – with green technology solutions to improve insulation as well as reduce use of water and electricity. 

How do we do this?

Three teams, each with a specific skil lset, were tasked to execute the project. A tenant engagement team established the energy needs of the tenants, as well as ensuring communication and participation between the project managers and tenants.

A technical research team investigated the best green technologies to retrofit the complex and a financial research team devised an effective financing approach to make the project possible. 

Who do we work with?

We worked with the Social Housing Regulatory Authority which regulates and invests in the social housing sector in South Africa. The complex we retrofitted is managed by our second partner, Communicare, one of South Africa’s oldest and most established social housing institutions. 

How did it start?

Due to the impact of electricity costs, the Social Housing Regulatory Authority started to explore the potential of retrofitting their social housing buildings with renewable energy options that are cheaper in the long run. They approached WWF with a proposal to start this pilot project.

What are the big wins?
  1. From 2015 to 2017, the Greening of Social Housing project was the first pilot of its kind in South Africa. Retrofitting this complex with green energy technology provides the industry with a much-needed case study of the opportunities and constraints of greening existing social housing.

  2. 18 units in this complex now have improved temperature moderation with ceiling insulation and double glazed windows, as well as money-saving devices in the form of solar water geysers and water-efficient shower heads, taps and toilets.

  3. The disposable income of the Boom Flats social housing tenants was increased due to an average saving of R100 a month from the green solutions. When you’re earning between R1500 and R7500 a month, R100 goes a long way - it could be bus fare or buy cell phone data!