Cape Town - Residents of Bromwell Street in Woodstock are celebrating an unprecedented judgment from the Western Cape High Court that declared the City of Cape Town’s emergency housing programme “arbitrary and unconstitutional”.
The ruling by Judge Mark Sher, delivered on Monday night, stems from a case heard over two days in November last year.
Judge Sher ordered that the City provide the Bromwell Street residents with “temporary” emergency accommodation or “transitional” housing in Woodstock, Salt River or the Inner City Precinct, in a location that is as close as possible to their current homes within a year.
Ndifuna Ukwazi law centre head Disha Govender said that at the heart of the case was the issue of how the City’s housing programme affected poor and working-class families facing the threat of homelessness and displacement as a result of eviction from well-located areas of Cape Town.
Giving some background to the matter, Govender described the Bromwell Street residents as “a group of poor and working-class families that have lived in a row of cottages on Bromwell Street in Salt River for many years”.
“In 2013, Woodstock Hub, a private developer, bought the cottages on Bromwell Street from the residents’ landlord with the intention of developing a high rise block of apartments.
“Since 2014, the residents have been resisting their eviction because it would render them homeless as they cannot afford any of the housing options available in Woodstock or Salt River, the areas that they call home,” said Govender.
During the case, the Bromwell Street residents argued that the City’s housing programme, and how it was implemented, was unreasonable and unconstitutional because it excluded emergency housing from its responses to housing needs in the inner city.
They said that in doing so the City had excluded the housing needs of a vulnerable group and significant segment of society whose needs were urgent.
They added that the City unreasonably treated people who were in similar situations differently by offering transitional housing in the area to people who were evicted off state land, but offering temporary emergency housing in areas like Wolwerivier to people evicted from private land, like the Bromwell Street residents.
The City’s argument was that there is no direct provision in the Constitution or legislation that gives rise to an obligation for the City to provide emergency accommodation in the inner city.
Its lawyers argued that the City faced many challenges in trying to effect the right to housing.
These difficulties, they said included budgetary constraints, exponential population growth, the limited land that the City had at its disposal for housing development, and problems getting other government departments to release land to the City for housing development.
They also cited the growing demand for emergency housing and temporary relocation areas that also affect the City’s housing budget.