The development of low‐income housing continues to be a political imperative and an urban reconstruction priority for the post‐apartheid South African state. But, even though policies for housing construction and delivery by the state are in place, in practice many homeless families initiate, direct and drive the process through which they secure state‐provided housing. I analyse in this study two such cases where homeless residents in peripherally located, poor areas of the Cape Metropolitan Area successfully accessed state‐provided housing. In both instances, homeless families organized around the different sets of capacities that structured the nature of the linkages that each forged to resources outside of their respective areas, and thus the ways in which they pursued their need for housing. I argue in this study that uneven and place‐specific, community‐based capacity often directs the manner in which communities interpret, interface with and access state‐run urban reconstruction projects such as housing provision. An analysis of community‐based capacity thus proves useful to investigate the potential and the problems that underlie state initiatives for development and the manner in which communities participate and engage with urban reconstruction and development.