Tackling Housing Challenges: Focus on Inner-City JHB

housing governance communities ngos
Wednesday, 14 October, 2015 - 10:48

Planact brings together NGOs, researchers, residents and other relevant stakeholders to discuss housing-related challenges in the inner-city of Johannesburg

Inner-City Housing Inclusivity Consultative Meeting

Conception of the inner-city housing inclusivity consultative meeting

Planact, a non-governmental organisation (NGO), implements three programmes, namely; Participatory Governance, Integrated Human Settlements and Community Economic Development, in low-income communities in South Africa. In January 2015, Planact started implementing its programmes in the inner city of Johannesburg. To promote sustainable development in the inner-city, a partnership has been formed with the Inner City Resource Centre (ICRC), an organisation that has been involved in addressing inner-city housing challenges since 2005. The partnership was necessitated by the realisation that problems in the inner-city of Johannesburg are interconnected and as such, efforts to address them warrant collaboration among different stakeholders. This collaborative approach recognises that fragmented approaches to housing challenges in the inner-city have only resulted in marginal positive benefits.

The first joint action by Planact and ICRC was a baseline study conducted in five ‘bad buildings’1 in the city. The findings of this study will be made available on Planact’s website by 30 November 2015. The second joint project was the ‘Inner-City Housing Inclusivity Consultative Meeting’, which brought together diverse stakeholders involved in the inner-city, for the purpose of exchanging their views.

Purpose

On 16 September 2015, a consultative meeting with relevant stakeholders, which included, the affected residents of the inner-city, NGOs, researchers, private sector and donors was held at Planact offices. The NGOs that participated in the meeting were the Social Economic Research Institute (SERI), Awethu Social Movement, the Southern African NGO Network (SANGONeT) and independent Social Housing Consultant. The Researchers who contributed to the discussion were mainly from University of the

Witwatersrand.

The three main objectives of the consultative meeting were:

  • To conduct a milestone evaluation of inclusivity in the inner-city of Johannesburg;
  • To enhance stakeholders understanding of the inner-city housing challenges and facilitate cooperation among the diverse stakeholders through advocacy; and
  • To document the outcome of the consultative meeting and use it as a basis for planning Planact’s projects in the inner-city. 

This consultative meeting was moderated by Mohamed Motala, executive director at Community Agency for Social Enquiry. The paragraphs below provide a summary of the deliberations on housing challenges.

  

A synopsis of the discussions

At the beginning of the consultative meeting, residents from the ‘bad buildings’ in the inner-city provided narratives of their living experiences.

Personal Narratives

George - Alexandra

George, a resident of the inner-city in Alexander narrated the story of how the residents of Alexandra were first evicted from Bohlabela Extension 2 by the Johannesburg Metro Police on 14 November 2014. He explained that residents were so frustrated that they built shacks in front of the building they were evicted from. A representative from the Member of the Mayoral Committee’s (MMC) office came to register these residents giving them hope that the government might be relocating them to better housing conditions. In February 2015, George and other building representatives went to the MMC’ office in attempt to solve these evictions together, only to be relocated to a multipurpose hall in Marlboro. In the same month, police came and threatened tenants (with eviction) which caused them to march to the Mayor’ office to request a letter granting them permission to be housed at the multipurpose hall. On 22 March 2015, residents went to ICRC and SERI to inquire about how to respond to evictions. A letter representing their needs was then sent to the MMC’ office. On 3 July 2015, the MMC sent a letter to relocate these Marlboro residents to Reyashoma Village (zinc shacks provided by City of Johannesburg). This village is without water, sanitation, electricity, refuse collection and is infested with rats. The shack sizes are extremely small (24 square meter) and do not take into consideration the number of people per household, furthermore, they are built with poor materials. The City of Johannesburg has not communicated with the residents since relocation of households.

Nomusa Zulu – Bekezela

Zulu moved to Johannesburg in 1997 from the Eastern Cape for better work opportunities. Life in Johannesburg was not as pleasant as she had hoped and therefore she became involved in recycling. When she moved to Johannesburg she squatted under the bridge in Newtown, close to Bekezela College. The college had been unutilised for four years at which time homeless people invaded it. Bekezela College is a building that belongs to the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (PRASA). One night PRASA sent police to evict residents. Being stranded and not having anywhere to go, a lady approached them and informed them about the work that ICRC is involved in. ICRC recommended the Centre for Applied Legal Studies (CALS) to the residents for litigation assistance. CALS took PRASA to High Court for rectification of the evictions.

A letter of motion was later sent by PRASA which did not give an indication of alternative/temporal relocation. CALS was then unable to continue with the matter as per their organisation rules and regulations, which left residents hopeless and further frustrated. Bekezela College is currently without any basic services. Residents use bushes as sanitation and purchase water in nearby taxi ranks for a fee of R5 a 25 litre, or search for burst pipes. This caused an outbreak of diarrhoea in the building. The building plan of Bekezela College is in the form of dormitory design. Curtains are used as a divider between families, which has become very unsafe for women and children. “I leave the house at 4h00 and back at 22h00, while my children (girls) leave at 6h00. It is not safe because next door are young boys which I’m very uncomfortable with.”

The two sets of narratives demonstrate that residents in the ‘bad buildings’ strive for survival and as such, engage different strategies to avoid evictions. Furthermore, the residents are also wary of their current living conditions and therefore seek intervention of government in addressing housing challenges and lack of basic services. Of concern also is the issue of vulnerability of women given the unsafe housing arrangements emanating from families sharing limited space.

Researcher’s Remarks

Lauren Royston – SERI

With the large number of people residing in the inner-city, the state and private-led companies conduct evictions from dilapidated buildings without offering alternative accommodation. SERI is one of the organisations that are involved in the inner-city project in advocating for, what the city terms ‘adequate accommodation’. The organisation deems that evictions would only be ‘just and equitable’ if alternative accommodation is being provided. Lauren states that the law mentions that a procedural requirement for an eviction and meaningful engagement with residents is recommended. In her presentation, she argues that the state should provide alternative accommodation even if occupiers are evicted by private owners. Moreover, maybe municipalities need to stop relying on provincial and national government for assistance and start planning and budgeting for emergency housing needs. The ever increasing gap between supply and demand in the inner-city is very concerning. Currently, 51 percent of households earn over R3 200 per month and 49 percent earn less than R3 200 per month. With the research that SERI has conducted, it is evident that even people in informal employment cannot afford formal housing. In response to evictions, the courts have compelled the city to provide a few buildings and shelters. SERI’s main argument is that the City of Johannesburg must provide an alternative accommodation plan, a low income rental housing plan and a new implementation strategy that speaks to ‘the gap’.

Themes emerging from the consultative meeting

  • Rental accommodation in the inner-city is insufficient, oversubscribed and virtually unaffordable to all poor households;
  • Residents of the ‘bad buildings’ live in appalling poor environmental conditions. Accessing basic services such as water, electricity and proper sanitation facilities is a struggle;
  • The residents from the ‘bad buildings’ all pleaded for assistance from ICRC, Planact and SERI to assist in organising them for the purpose of having a unified voice from the community and effectively lobby the government to provide housing and basic services;
  • The residents suggested that the housing problem can be minimised if the city builds them 3-4 storey flats where they are currently located at Reyoshuma Village, Alexander;
  • In the meantime, the residents threatened to mobilise themselves and approach the Member of Executive Committee’s (MEC) office to demand housing. However, as pointed out by George, they insisted “We don’t want to take the law into our hands.” These words were frequently uttered out of frustration. 

Conclusion

Planact believes that the consultative meeting was a success in many ways. The participants constructively deliberated on the challenges around the issue of adequate housing in the inner-city and provided suggestions as stipulated in the above paragraph. In addition, the meeting revealed the inequality that exists in post-Apartheid South Africa. Emphasis was placed on the fact that there is a great need for different housing typologies that respond to different livelihoods.

The role of Planact in improving the living conditions of the city was identified as that of strengthening building committees. Many participants including the residents alluded to the importance of a collective voice in the process of lobbying the government to provide housing and pleaded for support from Planact, ICRC and SERI. 

Following the consultative meeting, Planact is conducting workshops with residents from some of the ‘bad buildings’ to improve their understanding about the different legislations, operations of local government and their responsibilities.

For more information contact:

Nomcebo Dlamini
Tel: +27 11 403 6291
E-mail: nomcebo@planact.org.za.

For more about Planact, refer to www.planact.org.za.

Photo courtesy: Times Live.

[1]: Bad buildings in this article refer to buildings that have been abandoned by the owners or are poorly maintained.

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