We won’t go, says residents’ forum

2019-10-29 06:00
Welverdiend, a Communicare social housing development in Rondebosch, has been earmarked for possible demolition. PHOTO: Nettalie Viljoen

Welverdiend, a Communicare social housing development in Rondebosch, has been earmarked for possible demolition. PHOTO: Nettalie Viljoen

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The newly formed residents’ forum at Welverdiend, a residential development owned by social housing giant Communicare, has vowed not to vacate the premises at Rouwkoop Avenue in Rondebosch.

On 3 October, Communicare called a meeting with Welverdiend tenants, informing them of plans to demolish the 68-year-old building, blaming structural problems and ageing infrastructure.

Communicare has committed to give tenants six months’ notice to vacate, prior to the building being demolished.

As yet, no tenant has been issued with a formal notice to vacate.

In a statement released to the press on 17 October, Communicare said it would pay for tenant’s relocation and ensured that there would be no additional costs for vulnerable tenants.

“We have committed to providing similar, alternative accommodation for all tenants affected by the proposed demolition,” the statement read.

Karabo Makgoane, acting chair of the Welverdiend Residents’ Forum, claims Communicare, as a social housing NPO, has failed the tenants.

“Yes, they have offered to relocate us, but where to? People have built a community here. They are close to their church, Checkers and the post office. They can walk around freely and they don’t have to feel afraid when they collect their monthly Sassa grant,” says Makgoane.

She also accused Communicare of not being transparent in their reasons for deciding to demolish the building..

“They’ve been strategising how to get rid of the pensioners and other tenants who are paying up to 70% less than the market value of rentals in Rondebosch,” Makgoane claims.

According to Communicare CEO Anthea Houston this is untrue.

In a published statement, Houston said due to growing concerns about the building, it took the decision to act proactively.

“It requires considerable renovation to come up to the current municipal building standards. For example the building was constructed without any cavity walls which allows damp to seep into the building. Rising damp poses health and safety hazards. Many tenants are elderly and it would be irresponsible for us not to take preventative action,” Houston said.

Makgoane, however, claims Communicare has been lax in the premises’ upkeep.

“Until about two years ago, they would revamp units, one by one, as tenants left or passed away – putting in new kitchens, bathrooms and window frames.

“Then they just stopped. Now they say the premises can no longer be repaired, but we want to see the structural engineering report,” she claims.

In an email to Communicare, People’s Post asked if the company could share such a report and by whom it had been done. The question went unanswered.

Communicare did state the problem is not a lack of maintenance.

“The problems are structural. This includes a failing plumbing system that can no longer be repaired. 

“We have invested millions in recent years in maintenance to units. We believe we are doing the responsible thing by moving tenants before a situation arises where we have to embark on emergency evacuations,” the reply to the email read.

People’s Post also asked what its plans for the property were.

“We are conceptualising our plans for the redevelopment. We are preparing a scheme that will provide more housing units than those available at Welverdiend. We will share these plans when they are fully conceptualised,” the company’s response read.

According to a Communicare statement, about 60 of the current 100 tenants have been identified as pensioners, single moms and disabled persons by social workers from the company’s social development arm, Vulamathuba. 

“For these tenants we ear-marked units that are vacant at several nearby properties in the southern suburbs owned by Communicare. Many of these units are also being rented at market rates and are being offered to this most vulnerable group without an increase in their rent,” Houston said.

Properties set aside include Creswell House in Newlands and Mez Wallach in Lakeside. It also includes Musgrave Park in Diep River and Dreyersdal in Bergvliet. 

Communicare’s email read: “We have taken some tenants to view these premises and most consider the move as an upgrade to their conditions at Welverdiend.”

According to the company, 53 Welverdiend tenants had agreed to relocate so far.

Makgoane says many of the pensioners have lived at Welverdiend for more than 20 years. She believes this process has especially been hard on them.

“Communicare staff with social workers from Vulamathuba have been knocking on their doors, asking for bank statements and proof that they can afford rentals, without making appointments. Some of them are in their 90s,” she says.

Houston said it is not the company’s intention to cause distress to tenants.

“From the outset of our engagement with tenants, we have confirmed that no tenant will be left homeless. All tenants will have first preference to rent any other available unit in our portfolio of properties where the rent and unit size fits their family size and financial means.”

People’s Post spoke to a few of the elderly tenants, asking them how they felt abut the proposed move. None of them wanted to be named and most did not want to be quoted. 

“It is the old people who suffer,” said one tenant. “And don’t think it won’t happen to you. I never thought I would get old. I was out there, clubbing. But it happens.” 

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