FNB and Khayelitsha-based housing support office partner to help township homeowners resolve title deed problems

Many lower-income homeowners in South Africa have problems with their title deed. Government’s extensive primary transfer backlog, coupled with an inaccessible and expensive formal property transfer system, have resulted in millions of South Africans owning homes for which they don’t possess clear legal title.  This undermines their security of tenure and compromises their ability to pass these homes on to their heirs, increasing the risk of conflict and disputes. Properties without clean, undisputed title, cannot be mortgaged either by buyers who need finance to afford the property or by homeowners who wish to build or improve their properties. This limits the economic potential of these property assets. Moreover, disputes over property ownership are common, creating uncertainty and instability in vulnerable neighbourhoods.

This is the challenge the Khayelitsha-based Tenure Support Centre (TSC) aims to resolve. The TSC is a housing support office which provides hands-on assistance to individuals with title deed problems. It opened its doors in mid-2018 and, with the support of FNB, now operates its walk-in support office from the FNB branch in Khayelitsha Mall.

“FNB has provided us with a professional, safe space to operate from and an easily accessible point of contact for our clients to seek assistance. Operating from a bank branch also reinforces our message to clients that their homes and properties are important financial assets. Sorting out any title deed issues is the first step in maximising the value of that asset”, says Lisa Hutsebaut, the TSC’s conveyancer

The TSC deals with a range of title deed issues, the most common being the transfer of properties from deceased owners to rightful heirs, regularising informal or off-register sales, and assisting clients who have never received their title deeds from the Government.

The TSC, which started out as a pilot, action-research initiative in 2018, has grown into a more permanent housing support office serving clients in Khayelitsha but also surrounding areas. It initially operated out of a community centre which was vandalised during COVID. The team tested a remote working model, but there was a clear need for a trusted, physical space for clients to deliver and sign the necessary legal paperwork.  “The face-to-face interaction with clients is also critical to building trust in the process. FNB really stepped in for us when we found ourselves at a crossroads, without a space to operate from and unsure if the project could continue,” says Illana Melzer from 71point4 Consulting, co-founder of the TSC project.

“We’re excited about the potential to replicate this model in our other branches and extend access to this critical service to more homeowners across the country. We are well aware that the title deed crisis in South Africa materially constrains wealth accumulation and economic development in so many low-income neighbourhoods. It also slows the growth of our future market for mortgages.” says Mfundo Mabaso, Growth Head at FNB.

To date the TSC has interacted with over 1 000 walk-in-clients, successfully resolving title deed problems for over 300 of these clients. At the same time as responding to individual walk-in client cases, the TSC runs projects to address underlying structural problems in the market. An example of this includes a large-scale enumeration and subsidy beneficiary validation project conducted with the City of Cape Town in 2019 involving 780 properties in Makhaza, Khayelitsha where title deeds had not yet been issued by Government. Almost 500 of these properties have now been formally transferred from Government to the rightful owners.

The TSC is currently a joint initiative of 71point4 Consulting and the Centre for Affordable Housing Finance in Africa, with funding provided by Oppenheimer Generations and the First Rand Empowerment Foundation Trust.

To find out more about the TSC project, visit: https://titledeed.org.za/ or follow the TSC on Linkedin, Facebook or Instagram.

For help with a title deed issue, clients can contact the TSC on Whatsapp (065 041 6832) or email (sona.nongqayi@titledeed.org.za).

The TSC currently serves clients with properties based in Cape Town but clients based elsewhere are welcome to contact the team who will do their best to try and assist.

Any questions related to the TSC project can be directed to:

  • Illana Melzer –  illana@71point4.com
  • Kecia Rust – kecia@housingfinanceafrica.org