File photo: Paballo Thekiso

Johannesburg - Is the City of Joburg obliged to provide permanent accommodation to people evicted from unsanitary or hijacked buildings, or just temporary emergency relief in shelters that have strict rules?

This is the core of the case between the council and inner-city residents, represented by the Socio-Economic Rights Institute (Seri), which claim the city has failed to discharge its obligation to provide temporary accommodation to people facing eviction.

Last week, more than 1 000 occupiers of several inner-city buildings issued an application in the South Gauteng High Court in Joburg, requesting it to declare that the city had failed to discharge its obligations under section 26(2) of the constitution to provide temporary accommodation for evictees.

The application was in response to the city’s attempt to get an order suspending nearly 30 pending evictions because it does not have land or buildings available to provide for these people.

The council claims this inability to provide alternative accommodation is due to its awaiting the outcome of the Dladla matter, in which residents of alternative accommodation provided by the city are challenging the lawfulness of the accommodation rules.

Residents claim in court papers that the rules of the shelter are unacceptable because spouses and partners are not allowed to stay with them.

Nomzamo Zondo, an attorney at Seri, said these occupiers, who, like thousands of others, live in constant fear of eviction from dilapidated buildings, cannot be expected to wait in limbo for years until it suits the city to come up with a plan for them.

“In seeking to suspend all evictions that might require it to provide alternative accommodation, the city wants to suspend its obligations.

“This comes after several years in which the city has refused to engage with the occupiers on their needs and circumstances, or plan and budget for providing accommodation,” said Zondo.

In their application, the occupiers are requesting that a detailed process of engagement, investigation and reporting back to court be undertaken by the council, including the terms and conditions under which the occupiers are to be accommodated.

“The city says it is rejuvenating the inner city, but it does nothing for the poorest of its residents. The longer it delays, the greater the risk that the occupiers will end up on the streets,” Zondo said.

The city, however, said Seri was contending that temporary accommodation must last until alternative, RDP housing is provided.

This, said city spokesman Nthatisi Modingoane, was effectively freezing the city’s plans to provide temporary emergency accommodation to other evictees by requiring that every indigent evictee immediately be housed indefinitely.

“This has the effect of giving preference to evictees and potentially even building hijackers and land invaders over other indigent people in the long queues for housing. This form of temporary accommodation is not intended, in law or policy, to be a substitute for permanent housing.

“It is not alternative accommodation. It is, instead, emergency relief provided as an immediate response to those who have no shelter as a result of an eviction from privately owned property.”

The Blue Moonlight evictees, Modingoane added, were accommodated in a shelter in Hillbrow specifically paid for, and set aside for the purpose, for free.

The city had provided another temporary facility in Hillbrow.

In the meantime, the council continued to plan to acquire other buildings and roll out temporary emergency facilities in other regions, he said.

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The Star