Durban - The demand for low-cost housing in Durban was overwhelming the eThekwini Municipality which has admitted in court that it could not cope with the public’s expectations.
This frank admission emerged in a court battle last week where more than 200 tenants were seeking to prevent their eviction from an uMgeni Road building.
It also emerged that eThekwini had more informal settlements than any municipality in the country, which resulted in it having to provide water, sanitation and refuse removal services to these households, placing a burden on the municipality.
There was also the related problem of illegal electricity connections.
The Durban High Court had ordered the municipality to find temporary emergency accommodation for the tenants, but the city said this was impossible as it was facing a backlog of 450 000 houses and lacked capacity to meet the demand it already faced.
The municipality also argued it was not an emergency and the tenants were trying to jump the queue for housing.
The 211 tenants, which included some children, are blaming their landlord for using the municipality as a “scapegoat” to get them out. The landlord has claimed the city condemned the building, forcing him to evict the tenants.
But the city has denied this.
The city submitted two reports in its high court application.
The first referred to the city’s housing plan, the nature of the demand for housing it is facing, and whether it could house the tenants.
The second report, submitted last Thursday, referred to a housing policy it was in the process of passing on the allocation of houses to beneficiaries.
The city said the number of tenants had grown from 94 to 211 from the time court proceedings began in 2012 and said its 450 000 housing backlog was due to the scarcity of suitable, affordable and well located land.
The municipality argued the issue of vacant land for temporary and emergency cases was also problematic because “temporary” has no time frame and even if the court did stipulate a time, this would create a new informal settlement that would grow.
It also argued that allowing the landlord to accede to the tenants’ demands to stay would “derail all the city’s plans of eradicating informal settlements because it would take more than 15 years (estimate) to plan and move the settlement if it was allowed to grow”.
According to the first report, the municipality was dependent on the Department of Human Settlements for funding for land and when this funding was received it was three years after it had first been budgeted for.
Their 2013/2014 budget was R750 million and apparently only provided for the construction of less than 9 000 homes per year.
“Consequently, it would take more than 40 years for the (city) to eradicate its current housing backlog,” the report read.
“The waiting period for houses is extremely long and there are people in worse situations than the applicants,” it continued.
The city said it had to deal with more than 2 000 evictions annually and it was impossible for it to cope with that and allocate houses to settlements already planned for.
It also referred to other litigation under way concerning numerous cases of land invasions where invaders were attempting to jump the queue and force the city to provide them with formal housing “as it seems to be the case with the applicants”.
The municipality said it could not provide any alternative accommodation to anyone as it “simply does not have the capacity to do so”.
In its recent report, the city stated it had not declared the uMgeni Road building unsafe and that the applicants’ position was not one requiring emergency accommodation because:
* There was no damage to their homes.
* They are not a serious health and safety risk.
According to the report, it cannot “simply hand land to the applicants” nor can it transfer them to transit camps already established as they were trying to “diminish” the number of people living in these camps.
It suggested the court stay the eviction order for a year to allow for the city to address their housing backlog.
The matter was adjourned to July 3 for the tenants to respond to these reports.