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100 Durban families face eviction

Noleen Goldstone, Pop Zungu, Xolani Sikhakhane and Anne Dlamini of the low-income housing complex in Sydenham where they face eviction. About 100 families say they should be given the government-subsidised homes. Photo: Lee Rondganger

Noleen Goldstone, Pop Zungu, Xolani Sikhakhane and Anne Dlamini of the low-income housing complex in Sydenham where they face eviction. About 100 families say they should be given the government-subsidised homes. Photo: Lee Rondganger

Published Oct 28, 2015

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Durban - More than 100 families of a 212 unit low-income housing complex in Sydenham face losing their homes after racking up thousands of rand in rental debt which they believe was unfairly charged.

The families, some of them child-headed households, have been threatened with eviction by First Metro Housing, which administers the houses, after they stopped paying rent on their two-bedroom houses two years ago.

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First Metro Housing is a non-profit organisation involved in the development and management of social housing on behalf of the eThekwini Municipality.

The residents point to documents from the KwaZulu-Natal Human Settlements Department that purportedly show that when the homes were built – they were each given R18 400 in government housing subsidies – which they believe entitled them to own the homes.

“When we moved in here in 2002, we were told that if we paid rent for five years we would eventually own the homes,” Noleen Goldstone, vice-chairwoman of the Howell Road Residents Committee, said on Monday.

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“But that never happened and First Metro continued to collect rent. It was only much later that we discovered that we were given the individual subsidies which in effect made us home owners and not renters as these officials claim,” she said.

According to Goldstone, more than 80% of the families living in Howell Road have stopped paying rent to First Metro Housing and all of them have the threat of eviction hanging over their heads.

Ten families have already been served with eviction notices and more than 100 others have been summoned to appear in court, she said.

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“But we are having none of it,” chairman of the committee, Popo Zungu, said.

“We (would) rather die at these gates than to allow them to evict any of us. I am one of the 10 served with eviction. Where do they expect us to go? We were given these homes because we were low-income earners in the first place. According to the document from Human Settlements, I am the owner of my house. How can they evict me?” he asked.

Last year the residents put up a fight and stopped armed security guards, accompanied by the sheriff, from evicting five families.

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Since then, they have held several protests, including marching to city hall to hand over a memorandum to the KwaZulu-Natal Human Settlements Department.

“We even met officials from the department who promised to convene a meeting between us and MEC Ravi Pillay. We are still waiting for that meeting,” Zungu said.

Xolani Sikhakhane a member of the committee, who has also been served with eviction, said there were several government-subsidised housing schemes for families.

“Why can’t we be given the title deeds to this place? We have owned it for long enough,” he said.

Before they unanimously decided to stop paying rent last April, each family had paid between R1 900 and R2 600 a month.

 

Ismail Khatib, chief executive at First Metro, denied that residents were promised the houses would belong to them.

“The only agreement between First Metro and all its tenants is a lease/rental agreement. In the case of Howell Road, each and every tenant signed a lease/rental agreement with First Metro.

“The tenants were taken through a tenant training process and were given handbooks clearly outlining the rental tenure option.

“Howell Road is not for ownership. In addition, the technical, financial and policy framework for the Howell Road Project is based on long-term rental, not ownership,” he said.

Khatib said the R18 400 subsidy was explained to the tenants in a handbook when they took occupation.

“Subsidies are available to housing institutions that provide rental accommodation for persons within the income bands. It is not an individual subsidy as claimed by the residents.”

While he did not give exact figures on how many Howell Road residents had been served with eviction notices, Khatib said “most” of the residents that had initially protested had come forward to either settle their arrears or make arrangements to pay the arrears.

“They acknowledge that their agreement with First Metro is (a) lease agreement which confers rights and responsibilities on both parties. First Metro is fully within its rights to recover arrear rentals due, and where necessary, pursue the legal process.”

Department of Human Settlements spokesman, Mbulelo Baloyi, said they had been in talks with the Howell Road Committee to “unpack” the challenges facing them, and that officials from the department had undertaken to ask First Metro Housing Corporation to suspend evictions.

“First Metro was clear that residents who did not pay their rents will be evicted. Only tenants who entered into an agreement with First Metro to resume paying their current rents and part of their arrears will not be evicted.

“In addition, it had been agreed that those residents who, for whatever reasons, would not be able to afford to pay and also cannot enter an agreement with First Metro would have their cases looked into by the department on a case by case basis,” he said.

The Howell Road homes are part of the government’s social housing scheme which, according to Baloyi, are funded in three ways:

- Restructuring grants provided by Social Housing Regulatory Authority, an entity of the National Department of Human Settlements

- Housing subsidy grant provided by the provincial Department of Human Settlements

- Loan finance generally from the National Housing Finance Corporation

The policy framework intends to provide accommodation to families with a combined income of between R3 500 and R7 500 a month.

Currently, units under construction cost about R370 000 per unit, as opposed to R110 000 for a free RDP dwelling.

“Although the units are all of the same size, the rent payable by the tenant varies from tenant to tenant based on the individual’s income.

The unique nature of the development requires that prospective tenants be screened and allocated accommodation in the scheme on the matrix to ensure there are sufficient tenants in various income groups to provide the cross-subsidisation necessary in order to make the project economically viable,” Baloyi said.

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