Urban Forum volume 31, pages453–472
OpenAccess Article available here.
A century ago, South Africa’s first national scheme for financing public housing passed into law. The Housing Act, number 35 of 1920, created a fund administered by a Central Housing Board, from which municipalities could borrow to support construction of houses at a lower interest rate than available elsewhere. The Act came in the aftermath of the Spanish influenza pandemic of 1918–1919; the Parliament passed the law on 13 August 1920 and it came into effect a few days later. In the circumstances of 2020, millions of publicly subsidized houses later, and in the midst of a global pandemic, this article reflects on a century of public, or state, housing finance, through housing laws and practices that commenced 100 years ago. The article reviews the circumstances of health, housing, economy and politics in the 1918–1920 period. Themes emerge of public health, social control, racism and segregation, but also social democratic and anti-statist ideas. The article then briefly draws such themes through the twentieth century and beyond, leading to a consideration of the circumstances that prevail in the field in 2020, once more in contested conditions of pandemic, scarcity and poverty. The sources of the article include official reports and similar documents, secondary literature and some archival material. The method is historical and discursive.