Long wait for housing

HAZEL ALLIES-HUSSELMAN

Three women from the greater Athlone area are among the more than 300 000 applicants on the City of Cape Town’s housing database, who for years seem to have faced an upward battle to secure their families a home.

Only one of the three women who shared their struggle with the Athlone News will soon be accommodated in the Hazendal housing project – the wait for the other two has just became longer.

Susan Martin and Marlene van Aarde, both from Bokmakierie, as well as Ellen Swartz, from Manenberg, shared their heartache and desperate longing for a house.

However, Benedicta van Minnen, the City’s mayoral committee member for human settlements, said because there were so many people on the housing database, housing opportunities needed to be allocated in a fair, systematic and equitable manner, to ensure nobody jumped the queue.

Ms Martin lives in an overcrowded backyard. She shares her informal dwelling with her two children, son-in-law and two-year-old grandchild. Her extended family also live in other informal structures in the same backyard. She has been living like this for more than 20 years.

Ms Martin said she was supposed to be a beneficiary of the Statice Heights housing project in Kewtown, but she was told the City had not received her documents.

As she had been working at the time, a community leader had offered to hand in her documentation, Ms Martin said.

“That process started in the mid-90s. I remember that I was off one Saturday, and I told this lady, who also served on the project steering committee of the Statice Heights housing development, that I would take my documents to the Athlone community centre myself, but she said she would do it.

“The Statice Heights project came, and I was not a beneficiary. When I asked her about it, she swore she gave my documents to a City official. After some time passed, and numerous enquiries, a City official put me on the database in 2006 only. When I told her about my previous application, she said I must go back to the steering committee, but there was no proof. My documents somehow got lost.

“Now, with the Hazendal housing project, I had my hopes up that I will finally have a home for my family, only to be told that I don’t qualify, as the cut-off year for this project is 2000,” Ms Martin said.

Ms Van Minnen said the only way for Ms Martin to confirm her application date, was to go to the City’s housing office, at 50 Wale Street, Cape Town, with her identity document. However, Ms Martin said she had already done that and ascertained that she was only placed on the database in 2006.

Ms Van Minnen also confirmed that the beneficiaries of the Hazendal housing project had already been identified.

“All of the housing opportunities for this project have already been allocated, as the cut-off date, in terms of the ratified beneficiary allocation form, is December 2000.”

Ms Swartz and her family were evicted from Corrie Court in Manenberg in March, after two years of court proceedings, during which she and her family were declared unlawful occupants.

They now share her mother’s overcrowded flat, also in Corrie Court. Apart from her own family – her husband, two children and two-year-old grandchild – her two sisters and their families, as well as their mother, a total of 15 people, all share this two-bedroomed flat.

Ms Swartz has been on the housing database since 1995. She and her husband are forced to sleep on the floor in the lounge.

Ms Swartz explains: “My mother’s neighbour was the tenant of the flat we moved to in 2012. She said we can move in, as she was going to move to live with her son. My husband and she then went to the local housing office to tell them about it, and an agreement was reached. However, after one-and-a-half years, she wanted to move back. She then went to the local housing office and then legal proceedings were started against me and my family.

“In court, the lawyer who was appointed to me, told me that I must agree with everything the court says, otherwise they will evict me within 10 days. That’s why I agreed with everything the City said. However, I do not harbour gangsters or drug addicts. What I do, is give children food. Our flat was always busy with people coming in and out, looking for food. Whatever I had to share, I share. That’s just who I am. Apparently, a neighbour told the City I keep gangsters at the flat.

“My heart is sore. All I want is a home for my family, and I am prepared to go live anywhere. The City gave the flat to another family, who was next on the waiting list.”

Ms Van Minnen said the City had to operate “according to the laws and policies that it is governed by”.

She added: “Our entire delivery of housing opportunities, which includes the allocation of council rental units to our more vulnerable residents, must be based on fairness. The need for housing opportunities is acute, and the City cannot allow queue-jumping to occur at the expense of other residents who are also waiting for an opportunity, some of whom have been waiting for a very long time.

“Allocations are, therefore, done in accordance with the national government’s criteria for subsidised housing opportunities and in accordance with the City’s allocation policy. This ensures fairness, as those qualifying residents who have been registered on the database for the longest period must get access to a housing opportunity ahead of those who have been registered for a shorter time, when such an opportunity becomes available.

“The City regards the legal application for an eviction order as a last resort. Tenants, as well as unlawful occupants, are given ample time to correct misbehaviour or for unlawful occupants to find alternative accommodation before legal action is taken.

“Every tenant in South Africa, be those renting from private landlords or where the state is the landlord, must obey the rules. It forms part of the rights and responsibilities that we all have. With this particular case, the sheriff of the court evicted the illegal occupants. Prior to this, the City also received complaints about drug-related activities, the sale of liquor, and other anti-social behavioural matters pertaining to the premises.”

Ms Van Minnen said Ms Swartz would be considered for a housing opportunity “in terms of the City’s housing allocation policy, should a housing opportunity become available and should she meet the qualifying criteria”.

Ms Van Aarde will soon move into her new home. She was worried that she might have missed the boat, as she had been very sick on the day she had to sign documents in 2012 for the Hazendal housing project. She could not walk to the Athlone civic centre, and instead sent her relatives to explain.

Ms Van Aarde was apparently told a commissioner would come to her house, but that never happened.

Ms Van Minnen said subsidy forms were signed in 2012, and Ms Van Aarde had been identified as a potential beneficiary. She also confirmed that Ms Van Aarde had indeed signed a deed of sale, and “will be contacted as soon as her house in the Hazendal project is ready for handover”.