From slum flat to... slum flat

Date:27/08/07 Resident at San Jose flats on coner of Olivia and Lily Street in Berea where they will facing a final judgement of the eviction at the Constitutional court. Picture by Matthews Baloyi

Date:27/08/07 Resident at San Jose flats on coner of Olivia and Lily Street in Berea where they will facing a final judgement of the eviction at the Constitutional court. Picture by Matthews Baloyi

Published Aug 1, 2016


Johannesburg - A series of publications released by the Socio-Economic Rights Institute of South Africa (Seri) has highlighted how alternative accommodation provided for people evicted from derelict inner-city buildings is as unhygienic as their previous dwellings.

The publications, titled Johannesburg Inner City Alternative Accommodation Series, were released on Friday and document how the city’s housing programme falls short of what is legally required, as in many cases, people who were given alternative accommodation by the city in compliance with court orders often ended up living in the same type of unsafe and undignified spaces after being moved.

One of the Seri reports documents how 332 residents were evicted from the San Jose block of flats in Berea as its “parking garage is filled with waste and sewer water, and other open spaces are filled with refuse”.

Seven years after being moved “temporarily” to the MBV1 building in Hillbrow, those residents “are still living in a situation where the city does not manage the building actively or effectively, despite being the landlord”, the report notes.

“The San Jose legal narrative... paints a disheartening picture about the city’s approach to its constitutional obligations... A more proactive strategy to occupied inner-city buildings is required. Alternative accommodation policy development and implementation, rather than resisting having to provide alternative accommodation by fighting cases in court, should be central to the city’s approach,” the report indicates.

The report highlights a number of issues, including the problem of supposed temporary accommodation becoming permanent; the absence of affordable, formal rental alternatives for low-income households; and gender segregation in temporary accommodation that split up families by placing people in large, single-sex dormitories, often for several months at a time.

“Conditions in temporary accommodation provided on these terms rapidly deteriorate, destroy the bonds of solidarity and self-respect on which people rely, and quickly return residents to the very slum conditions that helped justify their eviction in the first place... A public rental housing programme which provides basic accommodation at long-term rents that occupants of temporary accommodation can realistically afford is urgently required,” it adds.

In another report, one of the women relocated from a dilapidated building in Carr Street to the nearby Memorable Order of Tin Hats (Moth) building in 2009 said they still lived in temporary accommodation six years after moving there, although they were meant to be there for only 12 months.

“We live in an open space, separated only by curtains; there is no privacy... I live with three children and three grandchildren all in this one room. When we got here we were separated according to gender. People have now moved in with their families. However, these curtains reveal everything; you see everything. Children are exposed to things that adults do and they come and ask you about it; how do you explain it to them?” she said.

This publication documents the people's struggle for access to adequate housing and against illegal evictions where the City of Joburg was reluctant to provide alternative accommodation.

According to the report, the city does very little to maintain the Moth building to ensure the residents live in habitable conditions. “It is difficult to avoid the impression that the city has abandoned the Moth building and effectively written off the residents’ struggles for a dignified existence as a lost cause,” it states.

City of Joburg spokesman Virgil James said they did their best to keep people off the streets and keep families together and in safe accommodation.

“There’s always this difficulty that we don’t have accommodation. So under the circumstances, because of the ruling, means are being made to find accommodation, but the extent to which people get evicted is faster than that which we can actually get accommodation,” he said.

“Preferably we want to accommodate people in a safe, clean building. If it needs to be repaired, then we would do so. The implication then is on budget. We’re in a position now where we have to think forward and have money available to do remedial work to a building and accommodate people there in a temporary shelter. Thereafter, the problem is it may not be exactly suitable for the people... then it’s up to them to find suitable accommodation.”

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