Abandoned and illegally occupied buildings are a usual feature of run-down and declining neighbourhoods, impacting also on the continued downward spiral of these neighbourhoods. Often called ‘bad buildings’, they reflect multiple failures including ‘market obsolescence’ (Mallach 2010): declining property values that negatively affect property owners, leading to reduced maintenance of buildings, and often resulting in exploitative landlord–tenant relationships, all contributing to the further decline of neighbourhoods. The decline has been explained by broader trends, such as increasing suburbanisation, population shifts and resulting capital flight, in South Africa attributed to political changes and ‘white flight’ based on racial prejudice (Morris 1999; Tomlinson et al. 2003; Beavon 2004). Although the circumstances leading to the ultimate abandonment of properties by their owners vary widely, urban planning solutions generally fall into the sphere of urban regeneration. In this chapter we explore an inclusionary and pro-poor land-law approach to address this issue, using as a springboard for our discussion an in-depth interview conducted with one of Yeoville Studio's key community partners, and desktop research conducted by second-year urban planning students.
Expropriation is one of the tools governments have to acquire these abandoned buildings. However, in many cases these properties are occupied, either legally or by illegal occupants (Zack et al. 2010), making regeneration a complex process. Many of the traditional market approaches to regeneration lead to the displacement of the poorest inner-city residents who often occupy these buildings (Marcuse 1986; Freeman & Braconi 2004; Newman & Wyly 2006; Atkinson 2010). Displacement both impacts on the economic sustainability of these solutions and raises significant issues of equity and justice. The question is therefore how to avoid displacement and social exclusion, while using these buildings to contribute to more sustainable neighbourhoods.
This question was raised in Yeoville indirectly through work being undertaken by students in a second-year course on land management. Maurice Smithers, the chairperson of the Yeoville Bellevue Community Development Trust (YBCDT), described the negative impact that a number of ‘bad buildings’ were having on the neighbourhood. Responding to Smithers's ‘dream’ of some kind of a community housing trust, students examined international case studies on the impact of ‘bad buildings’ on local communities, and how this problem has been addressed elsewhere.