Bromwell residents remain – for now

Future problems like Bromwell Street evictions can be prevented by owners

Bromwell Street residents will remain in their homes for now, after judgment was reserved in their case against the City.

A group of long-standing residents are challenging the City’s provision for emergency and temporary housing.

This comes after a developer – Woodstock Hub, bought the homes in 2013 as part of Woodstock’s gentrification push.

The group of poor and working-class families that have lived in a row of cottages in Bromwell Street for generations are challenging the constitutionality of the City’s housing programmes, arguing that suitable temporary accommodation has not been provided for them.

The case was heard over two days in the Western Cape High Court.

Michael Clark, a researcher for activist group Ndifuna Ukwazi, said that while the case had arisen from the developer’s eviction proceedings, the main issue related to what he said was the City’s obligations to provide temporary emergency housing to the residents and the constitutionality of the existing housing programmes.

“The Constitutional Court has held in a number of high profile eviction cases that municipalities have a constitutional obligation to provide temporary emergency housing to people who will otherwise be rendered homeless as a result of an eviction.

“The residents will become homeless if they are evicted from Bromwell Street as they cannot afford housing on the open market.”

The City had only offered the residents shelter in temporary relocation areas (TRAs) or incremental development areas (IDAs), which were poorly built and on the urban edge, far from jobs, transport, and amenities or even police stations, and rarely with adequate access to basic services, Mr Clark said. The one such area, Wolwerivier, was 30km from Woodstock, and the other, Kampies in Philippi, was 21km away, he said.

“The City’s housing programme does not provide temporary emergency housing in well-located areas like Woodstock, Salt River and the inner-city and therefore means that poor and working-class families are – in terms of the City’s policy – displaced to the outskirts of the city.”

In court, advocate Sheldon Magardie, acting for the Bromwell Street residents, said many of them, like 80-year-old Brenda Sarah Smith, had lived there their whole lives, resisting displacement by apartheid-era forced removals and, later, gentrification.

Woodstock and Salt River had historically been home to a close-knit, racially mixed community of poor and working-class families who were like “an extended family” now at risk of being torn apart.

Ms Smith is the second of five generations of her family who have lived in the same cottage in Bromwell Street.

Her mother had started renting the property from the then owner for R300 a month. The family continued to rent the property as it passed through the hands of two subsequent owners, and they now face eviction.

Ndifuna Ukwazi is representing six families and two individuals, including 15 adults and 11 children.

Malusi Booi, mayoral committee member for human settlements, said the City maintained it had acted reasonably and in line with its constitutional obligations.

“The City further argued that the court could not interfere with decisions as to where to develop housing and what form of housing is delivered.

The City totally supports housing in well-located suitable areas in urban centres, such as the central city.”

There are more than 2 000 affordable housing opportunities being developed in and near urban centres across the metro, he said.

“The City has always maintained that all applicants, including the affected Bromwell residents, can be assisted with social-housing opportunities if they qualify. As these projects are done in partnership with social-housing institutions and entail land-transfer and land-use considerations for the most part, they are complex.”

In a statement, Brett Herron, secretary-general of the GOOD party, said the City had rushed to cancel a clutch of proposals lined up to develop more than 4 000 homes in the inner city, Woodstock and Salt River, following former mayor Patricia de Lille’s resignation.

“Now, the City argues, in the Bromwell eviction case, that it is unable to provide alternative emergency housing and affordable housing solutions in the inner city, Woodstock and Salt River.

“The fact that, four years after the families first faced eviction, the City has still not developed a single affordable housing unit in the inner city is entirely of the mayor’s and his handlers’ making.”

As for social-housing projects, Mr Booi said the Pickwick transitional housing site was full, while the deed of sale for the Pine Road and Dillon Lane developments had been concluded in November 2019 but delayed by Covid-19.

“We are now anticipating that we will be able to start early works construction in Pine Road in mid-January 2021, if all goes according to plan,” he said.