JOHANNESBURG - Mayor Herman Mashaba said on Tuesday the City of Johannesburg would be commencing with plans to expropriate derelict buildings in the inner city.

Mashaba said in a statement that the move was in line with a drive to rejuvenate the area and "ensure that we are able to develop quality low cost housing, student accommodation, and affordable rental space for small businesses".

He said the city’s group forensics and investigations services unit had made inroads into the scourge of property hijackings in the inner city, with 15 property hijackers arrested, 12 properties returned to owners, nine criminal dockets are currently before the courts, while a property hijacker and his accomplice, an attorney, had been convicted of fraud and sentenced to 15 years and 8 years in prison respectively.

"To ensure that this challenge is addressed holistically, it is imperative that cases of property hijackings are dealt with both criminally and civilly. The process includes the criminal prosecution of the hijackers, as well as civil litigation to address the issues of bylaw compliance as well as the city potentially taking over ownership of these buildings," Mashaba said.

The mayor said the redevelopment of properties would enhance access to low cost, affordable housing for residents close to economic opportunities.

He said the city had an estimated 300,000 housing unit backlog, 158,000 individuals on the housing waiting list, an estimated 190 informal settlements while an estimated 3,000 individuals migrated to Johannesburg every month.

Mashaba said it was key to find new, innovative ways to address the crisis.

"Unfortunately, some properties have been abandoned and owners cannot be traced. This makes it difficult, if not impossible, for the city to ensure compliance with applicable by-laws, which in turn contributes to the degradation of the urban environment."

Mashaba said he had written to former Public Works Minster Nathi Nhleko requesting an agreement with his department in which it would name the city as its nominee for the transfer of abandoned properties in Johannesburg.

"I can confirm that the former minister’s office had received our correspondence and was in the process of considering the matter," Mashaba said.

"Given recent political shifts within the department, I hope that the new minister, Thulas Nxesi, will give our request his full attention, as a matter of urgency."

African News Agency/ANA