From Housing to Human Settlements

Over the past two decades, housing delivery has shifted from an emphasis on building houses to recognising the importance of providing access to resources and opportunities, which would facilitate active participation in the social and economic fabric of South Africa. This shift is illustrated by the introduction of the Comprehensive Plan for Sustainable Human Settlements (commonly referred to as BNG – Breaking New Ground) in 2004 and the renaming of the Department of Housing to the Department of Human Settlements (DHS) in 2009. Moving from this narrow conceptualisation (‘housing’) to a more holistic framing (‘human settlements’) requires considerable conceptual, political, and practical adjustment. This means reflecting on aspects such as:

  • The meanings, components, outcomes, and measures of having made this shift.
  • Citizen expectations of a particular kind of public housing delivery programme, making housing political and fraught with complexity.
  • The intricate financial flows and institutional arrangements necessary for delivery.
  • The ability of metros to deliver effectively on the broader conceptualisation of housing, in light of devolving the housing function to capable municipalities, which is currently underway.


This publication explores the housing and human settlements context in South Africa and the particular challenges and opportunities that will affect the delivery of sustainable human settlements (SHS). This will be informed by an understanding of the city as a settlement made up of components that together add to its successful functioning and also to its ability to give effect to spatial transformation.