South Africa

GroundUp: Families evicted at Cape Town social housing complex

By GroundUp 14 August 2017

Steenvilla in Cape Town is seen as a model development. Much will depend on its success or failure. By Ashleigh Furlong for GROUNDUP.

Evictions were carried out at the social housing development Steenvilla on Monday morning, sparking anger among residents who say they cannot afford rising rentals.

Steenvilla, which is in Steenberg, is run by the non-profit company Sohco Property Investments. It is a 700-unit complex, one of the largest social housing developments in Cape Town. About three weeks ago residents prevented 22 evictions from taking place and took to the street outside the complex in protest.

On Monday morning they weren’t as successful, with three families being evicted. A further 19 are expected to be evicted soon.

In protest against the evictions, two storerooms were set alight, as was a flat belonging to the brother of someone who is apparently a Sohco employee.

The evictions on Monday were carried out in the early morning. When GroundUp arrived on the scene, two trucks were removing the evictees’ household belongings. Residents who protested at the gates of the complex were forced to back down when the police sprayed a high-powered water cannon at them.

Photo: The interior of an apartment that was set ablaze. Photo: Ashraf Hendricks

Heather Maxwell, CEO of Sohco, said in a statement: “During March 2016 a small group of tenants stopped paying rent. After attempts to resolve the situation were unsuccessful, Sohco initiated eviction proceedings in court during 2016, with eviction orders eventually being granted in March and May 2017.”

Ihlaam Brenner, who doesn’t live in the complex but babysits her grandchildren every day, said when the police came to evict the residents, two women tried to prevent them from entering a flat. “They [the police] didn’t care. They just hit the ladies and took this old lady and shoved her to one side,” she said.

She said that she knew that at least two families were evicted, one of them an elderly female pensioner. “It’s terrible,” she said. “They took all the people’s food, [and put] everything on the truck.

Manny Stemmet, a resident in Steenvilla, said that when the evictions were carried out, the doors to flats were kicked in. “There were babies and old women. They [the police] have no respect,” he said.

He said that he didn’t know where the families who were evicted would go. Stemmet, like many other residents in Steenvilla, is also concerned about being evicted, as he was only able to pay half his rent this month.

I am the only one working in the house. I must [still] pay the other half [of the rent]. I am the breadwinner,” said Stemmet. “I have six kids and my wife is diabetic and asthmatic so she can’t work any more.”

Current rentals, according to residents, vary from about R1,000 to over R3,000 per month, depending on the size of the unit.

Another resident, Malika Pather said that while she is not one of the people who are set to be evicted this time, the evictions were “unjust”.

Photo: Family pictures and mothers day cards on a cupboard that was removed by police during the evictions. Photo: Ashraf Hendricks

Sohco’s Maxwell said: “The tenants being evicted owe in excess of 12 months rent, and during the last year all attempts to resolve the situation and avoid eviction proceedings have been unsuccessful.”

The financial sustainability of social housing programmes depends on rentals being paid. The security of tenure of paying tenants is placed at risk by households who do not pay rent. A number of the tenants currently up for eviction are in a financial position where they are able to pay rent and are choosing not to.”

It is unclear when the remaining 19 families will be evicted. DM

Main photo: A storage room was set alight in conflict between residents and police. Photo: Ashraf Hendricks

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