Call for transitional housing

Leah Losper was homeless before moving into the Woodstock Hospital site, currently being occupied by Reclaim the City.

“When you are evicted, it destroys a family. It tears you apart, not knowing where you’re going to go, or where you are going to end up.”

This is one of the many testimonies in a new report published by Ndifuna Ukwazi, called I Used to Live There this week.

Ndifuna Ukwazi researcher Hopolang Selebalo said the publication of the report was a result of the Bromwell Street case as well as the occupation of sites in and around the city.

Ms Selebalo said: “We started thinking about what a home should look like and the impact that places like Wolwerivier and Blikkiesdorp have had on networks and families. We worked with members of Reclaim the City who have either been evicted or are facing imminent eviction. They haven’t been able to be accommodated in areas that they used to live in.”

She said the report was also related to the Bromwell Street residents who were facing eviction pending a Cape Town High Court decision. “The state hasn’t put in any measures to regulate the private sector to make sure when evictions do occur that people don’t go off to far-flung areas.”

Ms Selebalo added that they felt the City needed to find a creative, sustainable and financially feasible way to create transitional housing. “Considering that there are so many well-located publicly-owned sites… That’s the reason why we did this, we wanted to show that it is possible.”

In the report Ndifuna Ukwazi said most tenants did not know their rights and moved from place to place when given notice to vacate. “But as options become unaffordable, most have nowhere to go. Although the constitution protects tenants from unlawful eviction without a court order, most are bullied into leaving. Landlords send around thugs, new developers rip out electricity or take off roofs, and lawyers threaten them with legal costs. Most evictions never reach the courts. A lucky few who are defended get extra time through the courts.”

Shane van der Mescht, one of the occupiers of the Woodstock site, said the building was heaven-sent. He said that he had been living on the streets for seven months after being unfairly evicted. “I had nowhere to go and the City couldn’t help me. It’s bad out there … the crime. Every night we were being robbed. I was full of sores and had holes all over my arms just from the stuff biting you outside in the sand. I was permanently ill but I came in here and I was just a new person. I know people out there who didn’t have a voice like I didn’t. I didn’t know where to go.”

Reclaim the City supporters came and told him about the site. “One day a guy came round and said would you like a place to stay? And I didn’t believe him. I left pots, pans everything and just walked, it was incredible.”

He said a new family moved into the site this week after being evicted. The family, he said, would have lived in a car and had a young baby. “There should be a plan for people like that. We wouldn’t have known had they not come to a meeting. They’ve just got no voice.”

Another occupier, Leah Losper, had been living on the streets in rough conditions before moving into the Woodstock Hospital site. “We had to fight for our stuff, we came here only with a few clothes.”

The report further states: “This crisis is not limited to Woodstock and Salt River. It is affecting tenants across race and class in the inner city and central suburbs, such as Sea Point and Observatory. Evictions and displacement are primarily driven by a property price bubble and hikes in rent. This is compounded by a poor supply of affordable housing in the private sector and the utter failure of all three spheres of government to build well-located, affordable housing.”

The report said property prices in Cape Town were making it difficult even for middle-class families and first-time buyers.

“Along the Atlantic Seaboard the year-on-year inflation increased by 22.9%. Over the past five years the increase in value is a staggering 104%. The City Bowl is not far behind at 20.1% and 89.9%, respectively. This hot market is primarily speculative as Cape Town competes with other hedge cities to attract a range of super-wealthy individuals and companies with surplus money or access to foreign exchange.”

Ndifuna Ukwazi said transitional housing was already being developed by the City of Johannesburg for inner city evictees. At a media briefing in Woodstock on Monday, Nelson Khethani, who was evicted in Berea in Johannesburg which led to a Constitutional Court case, said that transitional housing was possible.

He is currently in Cape Town advising Reclaim the City supporters about occupation. He added that the City couldn’t leave the management of these places to the NGOs but had to play a role in the maintenance of them. He also said these transitional housing areas needed to be in well-located areas as transport costs were a huge burden.

Ms Selebalo stressed that transitional housing in places like Wolwerivier and Blikkiesdorp was simply not good enough. “The consequences of displacing people are so dire. The occupations have also shown that it is manageable and is feasible.

“There is no good reason why this can’t be done in Cape Town. It is both feasible and affordable – all it takes is political will.”

She said they advocated in the report that affordable housing and transitional housing go hand in hand. She said both the private sector and government had roles to play in this.

Brett Herron, mayoral committee member for transport and urban development, said the report to affirmed the urgency of their current focus, which he said was to ensure that a broad suite of affordable housing options in well-located areas was available to qualifying residents in need.

“The City provides emergency housing for those who are in need of that assistance,” he said. Residents who face imminent homelessness due to eviction, including from private properties, qualify for temporary assistance. Transitional housing fulfils this need. It is obviously ideal for the transitional housing that is offered to those in need to be located near to where the people affected currently live. This is not always possible for obvious reasons – the City cannot be expected to have transitional housing opportunities in every part of the city. That said, we are currently working to identify additional sites for transitional housing.”

He added that the City’s Transport and Urban Development Authority (TDA) was finalising “a radical and game-changing strategy for the provision of affordable housing opportunities in the inner-city, Salt River and Woodstock”.

“I will announce the full package of plans in the coming weeks, save to say that the housing projects we are planning will provide a few thousand opportunities to lower-income households in those areas. We are currently finalising the prospectus for these development proposals and will be ready to share our vision for this area with the local residents, NGOs, stakeholders and other interested and affected parties within the next few weeks,” he added.