Durban pensioners risk losing homes

Residents of Sydenham Manor, formerly Sydenham Heights. Pictures: Lee Rondganger

Residents of Sydenham Manor, formerly Sydenham Heights. Pictures: Lee Rondganger

Published Aug 30, 2016


Durban - At 70 years old, Theresa Jacobus should be enjoying her retirement. But the Durban pensioner has spent the past few months worried that her former council flat - where she has lived for 40 years - will be auctioned from under her.

Jacobus, who survives on a state pension of R1 500, has fallen into more than R94 000 in levy debt on her Sydenham Manor flat in Sydenham.

She and more than 100 other neighbours in the three high-rise blocks of flats - formerly known as Sydenham Heights - have been summoned to court over unpaid levies and now risk losing their homes.

They are among about 60 000 families who were sold council-owned flats at rock-bottom prices from the early 2000s under the government’s extended benefit scheme.

The scheme allowed municipalities to offer discounts to indigent people to convert their council housing stock flats to sectional title units.

But, as has been reported previously in the Daily News, many of the people claimed they were bullied into buying their flats, and were not told the truth about sectional title living.

The residents of Sydenham Manor were sold their flats in 2009 for R6 000. “I was one of the first people to move into these blocks of flats when they were built 40 years ago,” Jacobus said on Monday.

“I thought I was going to live my life out here, but now, at the age of 70, they are going to auction my flat and kick me out on the streets. The fact is that I simply cannot afford the levies, and to pay my electricity bill on my pension.

“After paying over all my money, I am left with nothing. I sell chips and sweets to earn a little bit of money to buy bread, so I can eat,” she said.

Scores of her fellow residents on Monday protested against what they said was “government selling out the poor” by handing over the flats to them.

Pensioner Jammia Bell, 62, has been given two weeks to vacate her flat, which is in the process of being auctioned.

Hillary Lambert, 63, who has lived in her flat for 37 years, said she had been told to pay R2 700 a month to clear her levy bill of almost R40 000, or lose her home. “Where on earth must I find that money?”

According to residents, of the 120 flats, 90% of the residents owe between R8 000 and R100 000 in unpaid levies.

In an attempt to save their homes, the residents were expected to meet lawyers from the Legal Resource Centre (LRC) on Tuesday.

Community activist Desmond D’sa, who is helping the residents and was expected to be at the meeting with the LRC, said he hoped to get government to intervene on the residents’ behalf.

“We need this debt to be cleared and we need to find a solution where those who cannot afford the levies get government subsidies. The reality is that body corporates at former council flats have collapsed all over Durban, and poor people are having their homes auctioned. We need to re-look at that policy because sectional title for poor people has led to homelessness,” he said.

Andre Grundler, a property expert appointed by a court to administer 10 former council blocks where the body corporates have failed, said: “Unfortunately that is the only option for body corporates. If they do not do that, and just allow people to not pay their levies, the result would be that these flats would turn into slums.”

Grundler, who has been appointed to administer the Flamingo Court block of flats in Umbilo, believes that the city and the municipality should answer for a housing policy that sold the housing stock to poor people.

Last year, Grundler got the eThekwini Municipality to agree to write off R8.7 million of debt owed for water, and install individual water meters for residents of Flamingo Court.

The oral evidence over the housing policy was yet to be set down, he said yesterday.

Last year, KwaZulu-Natal MEC for Human Settlements, Ravi Pillay said the government had no intention of stepping in to subsidise former council tenants with their levies. He said it was not sustainable and went against the principle of ownership.

The provincial human settlements did not respond to questions e-mailed to them by the Daily News yesterday.

Seventy-year-old Theresa Jacobus, who moved into her flat in Sydenham Heights 40 years ago, has been summoned to court over a R94 000 levy debt. She now faces having her flat auctioned from under her.

Daily News

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