In Salt River gentrification often means eviction

Family set to lose their home of 11 years

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Nooraan Dreyer and her children in their Salt River home. Photo: Christine Hogg

Nooraan Dreyer has been on a housing list for 10 years. For the past 11 years, she has lived in an old, corner building in Alfred Road, a stone’s throw away from Salt River Circle and the Old Biscuit Mill. She lives with her husband, who works as a painter in the area, three children of her own, and three grandchildren. In her spare time, she bakes fancy pastries, has tea with her neighbours and goes out of her way to see her son’s soccer matches.

In November, she, along with her neighbours who live in the same building, received the first unofficial notice to vacate the premises by February 2016. After not being able to find a place her family could afford, she stayed and received another notice in April 2016 telling her she has 10 days to get out.

Until recently, she received regular SMSes asking her to leave. She also received a water bill stating she owes a backlog of money that was, according to her, previously included in the rent.

No official eviction notice from a court had been served, until 8 June that is.

Her biggest concern, she says, is for her children. “Everything around here revolves around my family; schooling, working, everything is just here.”

Not an isolated case

Gentrification often means the poor are displaced as the rich move in or buildings are upgraded by new businesses. In Woodstock and Salt River both are happening at a pace.

Dreyer and her neighbours’ case is not isolated. On the other side of Salt River Circle in Bromwell Street, 28 tenants have just received an official eviction initiated by The Woodstock Hub, who bought the buildings.

Historically, Salt River has been a working class suburb because of its proximity to the city and booming steel, locomotive as well as textile industries. It was marked “a Coloured area” during apartheid, and is known to be a religiously diverse area, where Christian and Muslim families get along well. Dreyer was particularly upset that the Muslim owner pressured her to move, even though Ramadan was about to start.

According to The Prevention of Illegal Eviction from and Unlawful Occupation of Land Act 19 of 1998 (PIE), she is legally allowed to stay in her home until the matter goes to court and a judge grants an eviction, which she can oppose by appearing in court.

A handbook by SERI-SA, Resisting Evictions in South Africa: A Legal and Practical Guide, explains that there are a number of things one can do to resist the court order. Under PIE, personal circumstances, as well as the way the procedures were handled by the landlord, need to be considered.

In theory, an eviction can only be granted if the circumstances are “just and equitable”, which means that alternative accommodation must be found by the municipality if the evictees could end up homeless. But although there are bare minimum requirements, such as size (at least 24 square metres), materials (Nutec walls, corrugated iron roofs) and access to water and electricity, there is little to ensure that the provided accommodation is dignified, or that opposing the eviction will be successful.

No law excludes the possibility of ending up far from the life one knew, in a Temporary Relocation Area such as Blikkiesdorp, where many residents from Woodstock and surrounds now find themselves in Block P. The government-built tin-shack town may meet the said requirements, but has been described by its residents as “dangerous”, “depressing”, and “unhealthy”.

Mandisa Shandu of the Ndifuna Ukwazi Law Centre has explained that the procedural requirements of the PIE Act can be circumvented. It’s common for property owners to exploit the fact that tenants have limited time and resources available to acquire legal assistance, and succeed in getting rid of tenants without even going to court.

Shandu also mentions that many residents lose their homes because they can’t afford to pay rent any longer. As a solution to this, she would like to see more private sector regulation.

“I think we can learn some serious lessons from what’s been done overseas. In New York, there’s a cap on increasing rents, so rent control, and a more progressive housing tribunal would make a huge difference.”

She adds that the amendment to the Rental Housing Act, which was passed in 2014, is promising, but hasn’t been signed into law yet.

Councillor Benedicta van Minnen, the City’s Mayoral Committee Member for Human Settlements, insists that the City is not the driver behind gentrification, and does not interfere with private land market dynamics.

“The transition taking place in Salt River, Woodstock and surrounds is as a result of market forces, presumably due to its close proximity to the city centre and with good public transport.”

Yet Woodstock and Salt River are within the borders of the City’s “Urban Development Zone,” which aims to encourage private sector-led residential and commercial development and offers tax savings for new developments and businesses.

According to a FAQ on the City’s website, ‘South Africa has a number of urban areas that are impoverished and suffering from extensive urban decay. In order to address these concerns and maintain existing infrastructure that was developed at great cost, governments internationally have increasingly utilised tax measures to support efforts aimed at regenerating these urban areas. Such narrowly targeted capital allowances seek to attract development to areas where interest would otherwise be lacking.’

To diminish the exclusionary impact of gentrification, the City plans to implement a number of low-cost housing initiatives in the area, such as on the sites of Pine Road Settlement and the Salt River Market, but there are no confirmed dates about when these projects might be completed.

According to Van Minnen, “The City will continue to lobby both the State and parastatals in this regard.”

In the meantime, Dreyer will await her court date, while her husband scouts for places that might allow him to erect a Wendy house.

There are a number of organisations, such as Legal Aid or the LRC, that offer free legal assistance when facing an eviction. It is also worth contacting local NGOs, such as Ndifuna Ukwazi or DAG, to see if they can help.

This is a useful guide.

Spelling of names has been corrected

TOPICS:  Housing

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Write a letter in response to this article


Dear Editor

I'm a landlord. Not a big property but one half of a building my business occupies. It's an old Victorian building and I try to maintain it. I stopped renting to families a long time ago when the law changed and impacted my ability to earn an income from rentals. It only wants one renter to stop paying rent and for me to have to pursue court action and I might as well kiss the income goodbye for a very long period. I am not a social service and if the renter can't afford the rent, it is his problem, but the law makes it mine. How many supermarkets will hand out free food hampers? Some landlords then can't afford maintenance and the buildings deteriorate, rates and services go unpaid, and before soon the buildings are in decay.
Cities need to renew themselves in a continuous process and if tenants opt out of this process for whatever reason then I believe they should move elsewhere and not get in the way of this renewal process.

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