Cape Town - Housing activists have urged the City to move quickly now that it had secured heritage approval for its biggest inner-city social housing development of about 700 units at the former Woodstock Hospital site.
Announcing the green-lighting of the project by Heritage authorities, mayor Geordin Hill-Lewis said the approval was a critical milestone towards the design and submission of building plans for the site.
“Heritage approval for social housing at Woodstock Hospital is welcome progress towards our goal of faster affordable housing land release in well-located parts of the City.”
Acting human settlements Mayco member James Vos blamed what he called “building hi-jacking” for having been the main obstacle at the site.
“Both the Woodstock Hospital property and the provincially owned Helen Bowden Nurses Home were subject to orchestrated building hi-jackings by Ndifuna Ukwazi’s Reclaim the City campaign in early 2017.”
He said this followed the government’s announcement of plans to develop social housing there.
In October 2018, the Western Cape High Court granted an order interdicting and restraining Reclaim the City from “inciting persons to enter or be upon the property for the purpose of unlawfully occupying or invading”.
Vos said: “The City is determined to proceed with taking engagements forward with unlawful occupants to unlock social housing development in the shortest possible time.”
He said there were pending eviction proceedings after the high court granted the City an order to survey the number and individual circumstances of occupants.
Ndifuna Ukwazi (NU) said they recognised and welcomed the City’s efforts to accelerate the process of releasing land in the inner city, Woodstock and Salt River.
However, they said that recent progress was long overdue and it had been a frustrating wait since the City promised to develop the land in 2017.
“Some of these sites were actually identified as early as 2008, but still do not have a single affordable home on them.
“How long will people still have to wait before actual construction happens?”
NU said it was dishonest of the City to claim that the occupation was the biggest obstacle when it had failed to produce any inner-city affordable housing since the dawn of democracy.
“If anything, the recent progress should be partially attributed to activist pressure. It is only since activists increased the pressure that we have seen any progress.
“Several city projects with absolutely nothing to do with Cissie Gool House are on the verge of cancellation because of government failure, and they would do well to focus on this.”
Reclaim the City leader Karen Hendricks said the City tended to shift blame for its failure and delay to build truly affordable well-located housing in the inner city of Cape Town.
“Woodstock and Salt River are two inner-city suburbs closest to the CBD geographically, and historically have been diverse areas. Yet now, plagued by rampant gentrification, they are a skeleton of their former character,” she said.
Hendricks said the City had an obligation and a responsibility to change the segregated nature of the city by developing an inclusionary housing policy.
Leader of the ANC on the council, Banele Majingo, said the City should move with speed, not only on this project but on many others as well, such as those in Silver Town and Khayelitsha.
On the issue of the pending evictions, Majingo said: “We reject the eviction of people, but if the agreement is reached between those occupants and the City to relocate them, it should be within the Woodstock precinct.”
Homeless advocate and Cape Argus columnist Carlos Mesquita said: “From where I stand, the City continues to do as they please with very little consideration for the vulnerable.”
He said the pending evictions reminded him of how the City threatened eviction of homeless people at the Castle.
“In both cases, they have also had ample time to offer assistance in dealing with and finding alternatives.
“But their focus, when it comes to the vulnerable, is to promote the false narrative of addiction, mental health, and crime issues.”