Activists question City’s sale of rental housing

The 47 New Church street property in Gardens was sold at an auction for R13.5million.

Housing activists are protesting the sale of a City of Cape Town rental property in Gardens.

The property, 47 New Church Street, Erf 94401, fetched R13.5 million on auction on November 23 at Green Point Stadium. It consists of eight houses, four of which are vacant.

Reclaim the City (RTC), Housing Assembly, and Ndifuna Ukwazi (NU) are questioning the City’s decision.

“The City says the houses are not needed for municipal services despite the fact that we are in a housing crisis. The City is paying R47000 a month to a security company to guard the four vacant properties and they say they cannot afford it anymore. This is prime property and it will be a sweet deal for a property developer, the zoning is ready for a mixed-use development, ”said Jonty Cogger, Ndifuna Ukwazi ’s attorney.

Mr Cogger says that the expulsion of the residents is imminent and that they will probably have to move to the outskirts of the City.

“If they don’t have another home to go to then the City is obliged constitutionally to offer them alternative accommodation. I believe they have done that but it’s in Bellville and other other areas, most of these people have been living in the area for a decade and they have their networks here so imagine just having to leave. So this is not a question of offering the tenants alternative accommodation, this is a question of retaining public land for the public good, but they want to generate the highest commercial value for this asset which is in a prime location,” he said.

Mr Cogger says that some of the tenants have attorneys to help them with this case and feels the scenario is comparable to that of Tafelberg in Sea Point.

The Department of Public Works sold the site to the Phyllis Jowell Jewish Day School for R135 million but Reclaim The City and Ndifuna Ukwazi had blocked the sale (“Province sells Tafelberg site despite protests, March 22, 2017).

“We (NU and RTC) have challenged the provincial legislation regarding the Tafelberg case, the City is disposing of these houses (New Church Street) according to local legislation, the municipal finance management act and we are looking at a possible constitutional challenge to that piece of legislation for a long time so this offers a good opportunity to test the constitutionality of disposing of public land in a housing crisis,” he said.

Hazel Matipa has lived at Erf 94401 since 2013 and says she is in shock since she received the notice of the auction on October 11.

“I worked for the government at that time and qualified to rent the house, but if I knew that time I would never become the owner of the house I would have had my own property,” said Ms Matipa.

“I signed a lease agreement last year and it is valid until 2025, we sign lease agreements every three years and the rent now is R10 500. It increases by six percent every year,” she said.

Kashiefa Achmat, the chairperson for Housing Assembly, and Karen Hendricks, a chapter leader for RTC, says that these sales of rental homes are signs of gentrification.

“We are against the City auctioning of the homes of these tenants that have been living here for years, even decades. The City has not built inner city housing since 1994 even though there is a housing backlog and we have a housing crisis, people are being thrown out of rental houses and we are here to say to the City that it’s enough,” said Ms Hendricks.

“We are standing in solidarity with the people who are losing their houses and we see that this as gentrification and moving the people to the outskirts of the city. People are disadvantaged when they are moved to areas that are far away as there are no opportunities there,” said Ms Achmat.

Luthando Tyhalibongo, spokesperson for the City of Cape Town, says they will engage the tenants when it comes to possible relocation.

“In the event that the City does conclude a valid agreement of sale, the City undertakes to communicate with the tenants timeously. Any termination notice shall not deviate from the terms and conditions of the lease agreement and applicable legislation when the City does terminate the lease agreements with the tenants,” said Mr Tyhalibongo.

The New Church Street property was sold at auction for R13.5 million, but the City says the process is not yet complete as they must still receive the offer and hand it to the delegated authority for consideration.

The City said in a statement that its last property auction for 2023 was a great success.

“Among the sites were 10 kiosks in the sought-after St George’s Mall, Waterkant and Strand Street areas in the Cape Town city centre that went to a single bidder. A 50m² shop in the prime location of Jubilee Square in Simon’s Town was also subject to a successful bid,” it read.

“The auctioned properties also included residential parcels, with first time home buyers snapping up single residential sites, and a R2.3 million winning bid for a vacant property in Maynard Street, Gardens.”