Eviction over high rentals is new form of apartheid - housing activists

2017-07-11 06:36

Cape Town - A group of Cape Town housing activists has warned that the unregulated high rentals and property prices that are driving poor people out of the city is a new form of apartheid.

Among the solutions proposed by housing activists Ndifuna Ukwazi (NU) is to turn vacant buildings such as the old Woodstock Hospital in Mountain View into temporary living spaces for individuals or families who have been muscled out by developers and speculators.

Inevitably, these people have to move out of the city because they cannot pay the hefty price tag that a modest home in Woodstock now carries.

The site of proposed transitional accommodation in Woodstock, Cape Town. (Jenni Evans/News24)

According to NU, only 13% of home buyers in Cape Town are first time buyers. Many buyers are scooping up properties only to leave them empty to sell at a profit later, or as second or third homes for retirement, or as AirBnB rentals.

"The average sale price for a home in this city is already the highest in South Africa and yet prices increase year-on-year far beyond inflation," NU said.

"It is astounding to think that in 2016, Cape Town had the third-highest year-on-year property inflation in the world at 16.1%, beaten only by Vancouver and Shanghai."

Luxury apartments 

Old developments are being revamped in luxury apartments and homes are being commodified and "stripped of their primary social function".

And when people cannot afford the increasing rentals, they are sent to one of the city's relocation camps like Wolwerivier or Blikkiesdorp, which are far away from the CBD.

These inevitably become their permanent homes although they were not created with services and development, nor intended for long term settlement.

"Relocation camps entrench apartheid spatial planning and are the contemporary equivalent to forced-removals," said the NU report titled, I used to live there.

Researchers have found that these people end up spending more on transport, lose their jobs, become hopeless, and their children are sometimes even sucked into gang life.

They cannot compete with the rising inner city property prices and even rented rooms are becoming scarce.

Jennifer Williams lived in a car after she was evicted. (Jenni Evans/News24)

NU believes the city should put into action its promises of cross-subsidised housing, and make property moguls include cheaper units in their developments.

Perfect transitional housing

But in the meantime, activists have already occupied an empty section of the Woodstock Hospital under the banner "Reclaim the City" as a response to homelessness through eviction. 

They believe these buildings provide the perfect transitional housing that so many evicted families and individuals desperately need to get back on their feet. 

NU researcher Hopolang Selebalo said for any transitional housing to be successful – whether as a relocation site provided by the city, or as occupation by a group of homeless people – the process has to be managed properly.

Johannesburg building occupiers have found out to their peril, that not being organised and co-ordinated leads to their building being declared a health hazard, and to their eviction.

Nelson Khethani, one of the tenants evicted from the run down St Jose building in Berea, Johannesburg, which led to a Constitutional Court application, is in Cape Town to show occupants how to manage transitional accommodation.

Khethani shared experiences of dealing with the "hard nuts" who did not respect communal space, and how to make sure the city keeps the transitional accommodation clean and maintained.

House rules for Woodstock Hospital occupants. (Jenni Evans  News24)

The Western Cape High Court is currently mulling an application on behalf of the community of a row of houses in Bromwell Street, Woodstock, which was sold for redevelopment.

They refused to be relocated to Wolwerivier, in bush about 30km north of Cape Town, because there is nothing there – no clinic or school or public transport. Judgment is still awaited in their application to be housed somewhere close to Woodstock.

Sleeping rough

NU said transitional accommodation has to be carefully thought out with private, semi-private and communal areas, leases, and storage space for the furniture of those who have been evicted so that they can get back on their feet.

A case in point is Woodstock Hospital resident Leah Losber, who lived in a field after being evicted and is pulling her life back together in a spotless empty room with a single bed at the old hospital.

Leah Losber took a while to get used to not sleeping in the ground. (Jenni Evans/News24) 

After a long period of sleeping in a field, she is still getting used to not having to fight off thieves who want to steal her meagre belongings from her.

She and group leader Shane Van der Mescht know each other from the sleeping-rough days.

"When I came here I was covered in sores from sleeping on a field. I did not sleep for the first month," said Van der Mescht. "I was so used to sleeping with one eye open for security.

"This place was heaven sent."

NU plans to hand the report to the City of Cape Town.

Read more on:    cape town  |  johannesburg  |  housing  |  service delivery

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