State flats crumble

2014-12-01 07:00

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Nineteen blocks of flats in Mthatha, owned and managed by the Eastern Cape government, are quite literally falling to pieces.

Paint is peeling, grass is overgrown, windows are broken and, most alarmingly, some walls are riddled with huge holes which desperate residents have tried to fill with small bricks and stones. At some blocks, parts of the roof are caving in.

Security fences have been smashed down at many of the blocks.

“We are living in squalor. We pay rent every month. When we withhold rent in protest so our places can be fixed, we are being evicted,” one tenant at the Valley View Flats in Fortgale told City Press.

“I have been staying here for five years. In that period, the walls have not been painted, the fence has never been fixed, thugs break into our homes and steal our belongings. We live in danger, but no one hears our cries,” said the 38-year-old mother of two.

She asked not to be named because she’s afraid of being evicted.

The woman showed City Press a copy of her lease agreement, which states that her landlord, the Eastern Cape Development Corporation (ECDC), is responsible for the block’s exterior maintenance. She pays R3?600 a month for a two-bedroom flat.

Another resident at Valley View, who has lived there since 2005, said: “We are being taken for a ride by the ECDC. They know we are desperate because there is no accommodation in Mthatha and they make us live in such filth. You can go anywhere in the country and you won’t find professionals living in such desperate conditions.”

At Northcrest, a block on the N2 towards Durban, which is also government owned and managed, conditions are squalid.

One resident, who has lived in the block for six years, said she paid R350 a month for a one-bedroom flat.

“They said they wanted to raise the rent to R900; we said they must fix the flats first. That was four years ago. They have not fixed the flats and we are still paying the same amount,” the woman said.

“We are walking in water here daily because the pipes are bursting inside and outside. Our kids get sick all the time. We are treated like dogs.”

She, too, asked to remain anonymous. “We are staying here because we don’t have another choice.

“The state does not even want to sell us these flats so that we can maintain them ourselves. We are in limbo.”

According to the Department of Human Settlements, Northcrest is owned by the Department of Public Works. Human Settlements’ spokesperson Lwandile Sicwetsha said the two departments had signed an agreement for the block to be refurbished, but he gave no further details.

The ECDC, which was established to promote development and investment in the province, says it has no money to maintain its buildings – because too few tenants pay their rent.

Nopasika Mxunyelwa, the ECDC’s spokesperson, said it collected just R4?million a month in rent. This represented about 60% of the income it should be getting from its property portfolio, she said.

“Due to the high rate of tenants defaulting on their rental, resulting in serious financial constraints, only ad hoc maintenance is done,” said Mxunyelwa.

“The legal eviction processes are too slow, [so it’s] not easy to secure paying tenants.”

Some tenants also sublet their flats, she said, and the ECDC was hoping to evict those responsible – though it cannot say when this would happen.

She was unable to say when last the flats had been repaired, though she insisted maintenance was done on an “ad hoc and ongoing” basis.

Tenants disputed this.

Mxunyelwa said things were about to get better. The ECDC had put out a tender for repairing its Mthatha properties. The process was at the adjudication stage, she said.

“Due to the current stage of the procurement process, ECDC is not at liberty to state the expected cost; this may influence the bidding process. However, we can state that it is a significant amount – that is, a few tens of millions.”

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