Evictee speaks out

Beverly Strong says that she is being evicted from her home because she is vocal about being anti-gentification.

The deputy chairperson of Naruna Estate Residents’ Association claims she is being evicted from her home at the state-owned complex because she spoke out against gentrification in Plumstead.

Beverly Strong accuses the provincial Department of Human Settlements – which owns Naruna Estate – of targeting her.

Ms Strong claimed the department wanted to gentrify the neighbourhood by moving the poor to the outskirts of the city.

Ms Strong got an eviction notice in August last year, telling her she was R28 000 in arrears and giving her two weeks to move out.

But the eviction was put on hold while she took her case to the Rental Housing Tribunal.

The tribunal, Ms Strong said, had given her the option to move to Pelican Park or sign a new three-year fixed-term lease that the department had introduced.

Neither the department nor Ms Strong was satisfied with the outcome of the mediation process, and she has vowed not to budge while the department has referred her case to the State Attorney.

Ms Strong said her struggle for housing began when she put her name on the waiting list for a state home 25 years ago.

After various attempts at writing to officials and applying for housing, and going through a very rough economic patch, Ms Strong said she had eventually, out of sheer desperation, chained herself to the gates of Naruna Estate in 2011. “At first I was only allowed to move in with my bed here. They gave me a one month lease in the beginning.”

Ms Strong said that for the first few years she had not had a lease and had not paid rent.

She said she had had to wait for three years to get a five-year lease and then another nine months to get a rent card to pay the rent.

Ms Strong said her arrears had reached R16 000 at some point. Unable to pay, she said she had tried to negotiate to pay slightly more than her R538 monthly rent.

“I said to them I’d pay R600 back then in an effort to pay up my arrears, and they thanked me. They even said that they wished everyone who owed arrears was like me. One moment they’re thanking you for saying that you’ll pay more, the next moment they’re evicting you. There’s confusion even in that department itself. I blame their maladministration for the arrears building up so much. Why did it take so long for me to get a lease?”

Human Settlements MEC Tertuis Simmers said the conversion to the fixed leases had been done in line with the requirements of the Rental Housing Act 50 of 1999, as well as Section 14 of the Consumer Protection Act 68 of 2008. He said there was a renewal clause in the lease that stated that the owner of the property, to protect their rights, reserved the discretionary decision to extend the lease.

But Ms Strong believes it’s a way to kick out the poor who are in arrears because renewal is at the discretion of the department.

“I’m not signing that lease. There’s no security of tenure. I’m also not moving to Pelican Park. I’m a single 58-year-old woman. I foster two of my grandchildren. How many taxis is it going to take me to get to work. I work around here in Plumstead, the children go to school around here.There’s no infrastructure at Pelican Park. They’re trying to move us into those shells, this is a community. We’ve built a community for ourselves.”

Mr Simmers said the department, as landlord, had been carrying huge losses due to the low rental income and high running costs.

“It is becoming more imperative for the department to exercise fiscal discipline to ensure that the rental stock is managed on a sustainable basis. The department held various engagements with the tenants regarding rental and leases and this was not well received. Tenants who are not able to afford the rental have been offered alternative accommodation options,” said Mr Simmers.

He said the action being taken against Ms Strong had nothing to do with her stance on gentrification.

“The action is based on non-compliance with the lease and nothing to do with so-called ‘gentrification’ of the area. That would be an example of an irrational/ frivolous decision. It would also be inappropriate of the department to articulate the reasons of this particular matter until legal processes have concluded.”

Karen Saligee, the chairwoman of Naruna Estate Residents’ Association, agreed with Ms Strong, saying there was a “housing crisis” in Cape Town reminiscent of apartheid’s Group Areas Act, only now it was economics and not skin colour forcing people from their homes.

“The same thing happened when Salt River people were moved to Blikkiesdorp. It’s gentrification. They’re trying to move the rich into our homes,” she said.

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