Housing headaches

Sheila Matshobas work-in-progress block of 14 rooms.

As talks continue between the Westlake Village community and the ward councillor KAREN WATKINS examines residents’ key complaints.

Earlier this month, Westlake Village was the scene of angry protests by residents unhappy with their living conditions.

Theirlistofgrievances included complaints about faulty water meters, which they claimed had inflated their water bills. They also called for a high school, library, clinic and speed bumps in the area (“Westlake protest fury,” Bulletin, June 7).

At the heart of the issue is housing and the need for more.

Ward councillor Penny East has told the protesters there is no land for housing and no plans to build more in the area. That did not go down well, and residents threatened to stage another protest (“Westlake protesters in talks with City,” Bulletin June 21).

But, so far, that option has been shelved, while committeemembersof the recently formed Westlake Development Forum hold talks with neighbouring business community.

Westlake Village is one of the first Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP) housing schemes in the country. In the late 1990s, in a deal between provincial government, which owned the land, and private developers, about 3 000 people living in a nearby squatter camp moved into about 640-odd houses.

The houses at that time were worth about R10 000. Today the population of Westlake has swelled to between 12 000 and 15 000 with most houses having three to five shacks on the small properties.

This puts pressure on refuse, water and sanitation services.

Many of the original beneficiaries have sold their homes to outsiders and moved into shacks in neighbours’ yards or to Vrygrond, an informal settlement near Lavender Hill.

The RDP homes can legally be sold d only after they have been owned for five years.

In August 2005 the South African National Civic Organisation (SANCO) started a community campaign to make homeowners aware of the pitfalls of selling their
homes.

Florence Ningi, 76, is an original owner who moved into her Pine Avenue home with her two daughters and her mom in 2001.

At the time, she was a cook at a casino in Goodwood. She said she left the job because it was too hard. Now she is bedridden and cared for by one of five granddaughters.

She is living off the rent from
five shacks built back-to-back in her garden. Asked why she had the shacks, she said without them she would have no money to buy food.

Her sister, Sheila Matshoba, 73, moved to her RDP house in 2000 and had sold oranges and apples before working in recruitment and then a security company.

She has four shacks on her neat property, each rented out to working couples.

In 2003, she bought a double plot and built a 14-room block that is a work in progress with tenants already living there.

“Whenever I had a job, I bought materials. My dream was not for a husband; I wanted a big house,” she said.

Ms Matshoba has two sons and a daughter who have jobs as a chemical engineer, a journalist and a nurse.

Both sisters suffer with arthritis and neither joined the protest.

Ms Ningi agrees with the protest because the government told her that her children would be given houses.

“The government told us we could not build shacks, but most people have them. Mr Zuma, you promised us a better life for all. Ask him, is this freedom? Are these houses big enough if you have six wives?” said Ms Ningi.

Ms Matshoba disagrees with the protest, saying the government gave her a house.

The sisters said most of the people living in Westlake Village now had not lived in the original squatter camp, and they had been forced to build shacks because the houses were too small.

Many shacks do not have water, they say, and the toilets stink because they cannot be flushed; the Westlake clinic is only for children and there are no buses at Westlake and taxis are more expensive; if a relative dies, their gardens are too small to hold a funeral and it is expensive to use the hall at Westlake United Church Trust.

Property prices are now between R200 000 to R300 000 depending on the state of the house.

Dr Charlotte Lemanski wrote a paper on South African backyard dwellers in 2009, based on the community of Westlake Village.

At that time she was at UCT. Her focus is on communities, mostly in South Africa, and she recently received an award for her research on hybrid gentrification.

“Small-scale landlords provide accommodation to 1.85 million South African households, of which approximately 60% (1.1 million households) are in backyard dwellings (shacks and brick-built structures), and since 1994 have provided more accommodation than the national housing subsidy scheme,” wrote Dr Lanski in 2009.

She said that in 1994 the government had promoted house ownership as the solution to informal housing despite international literature that private renting provided greater opportunities for low-income households.

Dr Lemanski said the infrastructural capacity of RDP settlements was over-burdened and that backyard tenants’ access to sanitation was entirely dependent on landlords.

“Thus, some form of infrastructure-upgrading in areas with backyard housing, particularly RDP settlements, is necessary, such as creating communal ablutions, extending sewerage capacity, installing additional electricity sub-stations and increasing water supply.”

The community’s memorandum of grievances has been discussed at meetings held on Tuesday June 12 and Thursday June 21. The Bulletin posed questions to Ms East and community leaders Matthew Adams and Amanda Mbanda about the progress of those discussions, but Ms East said talks
were ongoing and they would only be making joint media statements in future.