Families claim they were duped into paying R50 to get a house

But Howard Soetwater of United Homeless People’s Association says it needs money to organise

Photo of Bronwen Rhode and her son

Retreat residents Bronwen Rhode, 59, and her son, Sharhied Solomons, 38, say members of their family paid more than R50 to an organisation claiming it would prioritise them on the City’s housing list. Photo: Mosima Rafapa

By Mosima Rafapa

28 January 2020

A Retreat family believe they were duped into thinking that the City of Cape Town would prioritise them for a housing project.

According to the family, Howard Soetwater, chairperson of the United Homeless People’s Association (UHPA) has been charging residents a fee to be added to a housing list. Soetwater has denied that he was scamming residents.

But the City’s Mayco Member for Human Settlements, Malusi Booi says registration on the City’s Housing Database is free of charge and anyone charging for this should be reported to the police.

In March 2016, GroundUp reported that Bronwen Rhode, 59, and her family of 18 were among 30 families who were forcefully removed from an open field in 10th Avenue, Retreat.

Earlier this month, Rhode told GroundUp that Soetwater has been charging residents R50 to put their names on the housing list, but nothing had come out of it.

She said her son, daughter and daughter-in-law were among those who were promised social housing by Soetwater. “They paid R50 to be on the list and every time Howard has a meeting with the residents, they are required to pay an additional R50,” she said.

Rhode’s son Sharhied Solomons said he was on Soetwater’s housing list and he had also paid more than R50. He said Soetwater claimed to have a list from the court that would guarantee that the group of evictees from Retreat would get houses. “We had numerous meetings with him and every time, he required more money from us. He had a list with names of people who were supposed to get houses. Our names were not on the second list he had,” he said.

Residents GroundUp spoke to claimed that Soetwater at the time had encouraged residents to occupy the vacant land in 2016, claiming that he had won it during another eviction case.

During a telephone interview, Soetwater insisted that he worked with the City to develop housing for residents. “[Residents] have the right to identify a piece of land and benefit from the housing project. Council now wants to hijack the housing project from us,” he said.

Soetwater said the UHPA represented more than 2,000 people and required funds in order to represent residents. “To fully participate in this process, we need our members to pay a fee. We are not getting any funding from the City. The R50 was once-off. The people sit at home and we fight for them. We attend meetings, we need to make calls, and send emails. Who’s going to pay for all of that?” asked Soetwater.

He also told GroundUp: “We are working with the City and we are still negotiating on what type of houses are going to be built [on the land].”

When asked about this fee, Councillor Booi said: “The only City-employed staff who can assist residents with completing and updating their applications registered on the Housing Database, are those working at our housing offices, walk-in centres or at our MyEstate mobile office.”

Booi said that the City did not recognise Soetwater’s association which claimed to represent Retreat residents. “The assertion made by this grouping that land was given to them was incorrect. This land belongs to the City and we have earmarked this land for the Crestway Housing Project.”

Booi stressed that the City was not working with Soetwater’s association and that members of the UHPA would not be given preference in the project. “The City’s Crestway Housing Project is currently in the planning phase. It is estimated that it will provide approximately 500 housing opportunities to qualifying beneficiaries, depending on the outcome of the feasibility studies which are currently underway,” he said.

He urged applicants who are already registered on the Housing Database to update their details to ensure that the City is able to contact them should housing become available.