The Western Cape High Court has declared the City's emergency housing programme unconstitutional, inconsistent and haphazard when implemented in response to evictions in Woodstock and Salt River.
The court's judgement, passed on Monday, dealt with a case lodged by Bromwell Street residents, who had lived in Salt River for generations and faced eviction by the current owner, the Woodstock Hub.
The residents had been resisting the eviction since 2015 and challenged the constitutionality of the City's emergency housing programme.
They argued that the City’s emergency housing programme, and the way it was implemented, excluded the delivery of temporary emergency housing for people who were at risk of becoming homeless as a result of the eviction in inner-city Cape Town and surrounding areas.
The residents also argued that the City "arbitrarily and unfairly discriminated" against them by not offering transitional housing as it had offered other evicted residents in similar circumstances.
Ndifuna Ukwazi Law Centre which represented the residents hailed the judgement as a "victory for poor and working class" families facing the threat of homelessness and displacement because of eviction from well-located areas of the city.
The City offers temporary emergency housing in far-flung temporary relocation areas (TRAs) and incremental development areas (IDAs), like Blikkiesdorp and Wolwerivier, or informal settlements, like Kampies.
In court papers, the residents argued that the effect of the City’s temporary emergency housing programme was to displace poor and working class people from well-located areas to the urban periphery where economic opportunities, transport routes and social amenities like schools, hospitals, police stations and clinics were difficult to access.
Most of the residents faced being displaced as a result of high rents and property prices because of gentrification.
Judge Mark Sher criticised the City’s “irrational” and “arbitrary” approach to the provision of temporary emergency housing for evicted residents, in terms of which the City offered different groups of evictees different types of emergency or transitional housing.
Judge Sher said: “To my mind ... this differentiation in treatment in relation to evictees in Woodstock and Salt River is unfair and unreasonable.
“Evictees such as the applicants who have been living in Woodstock and Salt River for many years (in some instances since their birth) are at risk of having to be relocated either to the outskirts of the City or to informal settlements outside the City, away from their workplace, educational facilities, clinics and places of religious worship, whilst other evictees will not be subjected to these same disadvantages.
“Consequently, in my view the differentiation in treatment which the City’s emergency housing programme affords to homeless evictees in the inner City, and in Woodstock and Salt River in particular, is not only unreasonable but also irrational, because it is arbitrary in its implementation.”
Judge Sher also gave the City 12 months within which to provide the emergency or transitional housing.
In addition, the City has to report back to the court within four months providing more information about the location and suitability of the emergency or transitional housing it would make available to the Bromwell Street residents.
Attorney for the residents, Disha Govender, said : "We believe the judgment and order will go a long way to ensuring that the Bromwell residents are not displaced from the only community they have ever known and hope that it will result in systemic change at the City level in how it responds to the emergency housing needs of evictees".
The City said it was concerned about the implications of the judgement for both private property owners and municipalities across the country.
Mayor Dan Plato said: “While we acknowledge the court’s decision, we do not agree with the outcome of this matter and we are in the process of considering our options.”