Last year I lived in Cape Town CBD and would say I paid a reasonable amount for the shared apartment I stayed in. The top considerations on my priority list were location, convenience and safety. I won’t deeply explore how social injustice in Cape Town has remained materialized in the segregation and zoning of the city- because that requires a single blog post on it’s own. But what is necessary to single out here is that as a black womxn, I can assure you that the affordability of accommodation in central Cape Town is inaccessible to majority of people of colour in this country, and even if you are earning the same amount of money as a privileged white person, and are at a certain level of privilege as a black person; the money absorbing baskets in the background such as black tax and historical debt, leave you one paycheck away from losing your lifestyle.
Anyway, at the end of 2016, the time came for the end of our lease, and in my mind the future seemed pretty clear. I would extend the lease with an expected increase of a maximum of 10%. However, little did I know that there were in fact two options on my landlord’s table. One, being the same aforementioned instance and two, the possibility of turning the apartment into an airbnb and renting it out short term at a rental rate. At the time I didn’t investigate much, and my circumstances led me to moving to Southern Suburbs for ease of location in proximity to campus and of course affordability.
Fate took its play and I now somehow find myself living back at the same apartment block that I did last year; a floor two times higher than that I had originally occupied, fully furnished, incredible views and a rather generous long list of other amenities. Strangely enough I am paying less than I originally did for an unfurnished home 5 floors down. To add to the giving context, I am under a very short-term two-month lease. After some thought, and working in Youth In Property Association (YIPA), it all began to make sense: I currently stay in an airbnb apartment and happened to have stricken a great deal due to it being off-peak season. The apartment would otherwise be vacant and so an extra two months worth of rent is a simple bonus to the owner.
Airbnb has lead to an imbalance in market trends threatening other forms of short term accommodation. With fewer long term rental homes on the market, the supply continues to decrease, and the demand is escalating due to the ever increasing population and housing crisis. Hence, a strikingly high increase in long term rentals has become common in the Cape Town CBD. “We are finding about 50% of buyer enquiries in Sea Point specifically requesting properties that can be holiday let. Investors are seeing favorable returns with Airbnb, so the appeal is completely understandable.” says Lyonelle Venter, an estate agent from Jawitz Properties who specializes in apartments priced up to R4 million in the area. (MyProperty 2017)
The cost of living in the city is increasing at an exceptional rate due to Airbnb. Not only does this create a city of privilege but worsens the socio-spatial condition of the city. Due to the particularity of our historical context, capital in South Africa is concentrated. Wealth is contained in white capital and so by reducing access into living in the city with increased rental rates, the Cape Town remains untransformed and lack in diversity. Sure, during the day you may be surrounded by people of colour, serving you in restaurants, working in stores, or in my case, fellow friends from up north studying in Cape Town- but the fact is that when the working day is done, people of colour use their income to return back to the far removed, infrastructure-poor areas that they have been placed in by historical injustice.
However, to extend on this, the bigger picture is more daunting. As UN special rapporteur for housing and human rights Leilani Fahra puts it “In such markets, the value of housing is no longer based on its social use. Properties are equally valuable regardless of whether they are vacant or occupied, so there is no pressure to ensure properties are lived in. They are built with the intention of lying empty and accumulating value, while at the same time, homelessness remains a persistent problem.” (Farha 2016)
With this intangible driving force of economic activity and market play, the socio-spatial condition of the city begins to degrade. Jane Jacobs speaks about the importance of keeping the street and cities diverse, on a 24 hour basis, and furthermore highlights that when cities do not have familiar faces, they become unsafe spaces, “The high-rent tenants, most of whom are so transient we cannot even keep track of their faces, have not the remotest idea of who takes care of the street and how”. (Jacobs 1961) The Airbnb boom is becoming an urbanization trend, and it would be interesting to map out the movement of people on a migration basis at the point of that occurrence. I would encourage you to read the post titled Jane Jacobs: The Death and Life of Cities, Jozi vs Cape Town that was released a few weeks back by Matri-Archi.
It is clear that completely intangible forces have enormous effects on the spatial condition of the city, be that physical or metaphysical. This brings me to question how we as designers begin to loosen our frame of thinking in this particular discipline. Granted, considerations such as time spent learning need to be discussed, but in order for planners to truly create cities that give opportunity, we need to not only learn about the numbers, patterns and trends of the economy but also be able to pre-empt and predict changes that can be shaped into the mechanics of the system of the city. At this point, the constant presence of collaboration and co-production in the design space seem to be the way forward, and I suppose it is in retrospect when we are able to see how successful our actions will be.
In my time spent in the CBD, I can count the number of neighbours I’ve had; neighbours who I could perhaps ask for sugar, or knock on a door in times of emergency. The others are strangers that I’ll never know; a buzz of different accents looming in the background of the lift on my way up to my apartment.
Cape Town, as a node, is a transient city. Of course this brings with it many benefits for the economy of the city on paper, but the negatives are of greater concern and deserve more attention by governance structures. According to The Library of Congress, “On May 1, 2016, a law prohibiting the illegal repurposing of residential housing without a permit took effect in Berlin, following the end of a two-year transitional period. The law aims to combat the growing housing shortage in Berlin.” (Gesley 2016) It’s happening elsewhere, laws are being put in place to preserve the right to the city.
Airbnb is an extremely innovative model, similar to Uber: faciliating activity with minimal assets and maintenance, and furthermore giving access to people who would like to make money. But in every model there is room for exploitation, and in the rat race world we’ve created for ourselves, the amount of people willing to turn down an opportunity to make more money is rare. The economy does not have an incentive to a morale, which I feel it should, and the governing and judicial bodies who do have a societal obligation to maintain morale do not seem to have acted as radically in this interface. If this interface is left vacant of responsibility then we will continue to face socio-economic Apartheid, and Cape Town will remain a transient city, where everyone is a stranger in a (slightly diliuted) white ocean and will slowly become vacant blocks of concrete overlooking unsafe streets. No community, only hostile faces.
- Farha, Leilani. People’s homes are not commodities: cities need to rethink housing. October 2016, 2016. https://www.theguardian.com/housing-network/2016/oct/18/homes-investment-cities-housing-un-habitatiii (accessed May 12, 2017).
- Foster, Dawn. UN report lays bare the waste of treating homes as commodities. February 28, 2017. https://www.theguardian.com/housing-network/2017/feb/28/un-report-lays-bare-the-waste-of-treating-homes-as-commodities (accessed May 12, 2017).
- Gesley, Jenny. Global Legal Monitor. May 24, 2016. http://www.loc.gov/law/foreign-news/article/germany-law-restricting-airbnb-and-other-vacation-rentals-takes-effect-in-berlin/ (accessed March 10, 2017).
- The Airbnb impact on the South African property market. February 10, 2017. http://www.myproperty.co.za/news/14447/The-Airbnb-impact-on-the-South-African-property-market.aspx (accessed May 13, 2017).
- Property Wheel. AIRBNB BOOMS IN ATLANTIC SEABOARD. January 20, 2017. https://propertywheel.co.za/2017/01/airbnb-booms-in-atlantic-seaboard/ (accessed May 13, 2017).