City plans to survey hospital occupants

Woodstock hospital is occupied by members of Reclaim the City.

The City of Cape Town says it will press ahead with its social-housing plan for the old Woodstock hospital by seeking court orders to survey the “illegal” occupants and, if necessary, evict them.

Malusi Booi, the mayoral committee member for human settlements, says the City wants to gauge how many people are occupying the hospital, their identities, incomes, eligibility for state-subsidised housing and willingness to vacate the premises.

But the housing-activist group, Reclaim the City (RTC), which has represented the occupants since 2017, says the City is trying to vilify the organisation and shift the blame for the City’s own failure onto the poor and working-class people it is meant to serve.

Karen Hendricks, the leader of RTC’s Woodstock hospital chapter, says they are not preventing social housing from happening.

“We have been calling on the City and the Province to develop social and affordable housing on well-located public land in the central city for years,” she said. “However, the City has continued to resist these claims.”

They had last participated in a City survey at the beginning of 2019 and would be willing to do so again as long as they could consult with RTC on how it would be done, she said.

Michael Clark, the head of research and advocacy, at Ndifuna Ukwazi, a non-profit activist organisation and law centre, said those on the “waiting list” for state-subsidised or affordable rental housing had lost hope.

“Where public housing is built, it is invariably located on the outskirts of the city on cheaper land far from economic opportunities and amenities, and where there is public transport, the costs are high.”

Mr Booi said social housing could not happen unless those illegally occupying the site cleared off.

“If needs be, the City will pursue eviction proceedings subject to lockdown regulations,” he said.

Some 2000 affordable homes were being built in and near urban centres across the metro thanks to the City’ efforts, Mr Booi said, and those were besides the 700 units planned for the Woodstock hospital.

“Several other well-located City projects in Woodstock are set for major milestones this year, with a projected total of around 620 social housing units. Pine Road is due to break ground, Dillon Lane is at development-application stage and Salt River Market is now just months away from handover to a social-housing developer,” he said.

Social housing could be derailed at Woodstock hospital if the occupants refused to leave and the high court orders were not granted, he said.

Mayor Dan Plato said the “toxic legacy” of Ndifuna Ukwazi’s organised land invasions was the biggest obstacle to social housing on well-located sites in central Cape Town.

“They billed the illegal invasions as a ‘symbolic’ act, but they have lost control over the situation,” he said.

But Mr Clark said that claim was absurd and untrue. “Over the past five years, our work has provoked a city-wide conversation about spatial justice based on access to land and housing that did not exist when we started,” he said.

Ms Hendricks said it was wrong for the City to threaten the families in the Woodstock hospital – dubbed Cissie Gool House by the occupiers – with eviction during a pandemic.

“Their eviction attempt shows that the city is not a ’caring city’, as it suggests,” she said. “Instead it shows that the City does not care about the dignity, health and lives of poor and working-class people.”

The hospital had become a refuge and a community for those who had long lived in the area, she said.

“Many families from all walks of life have found safety, security and a place to call home here in a city that faces an ongoing housing crisis, in terms of affordability and supply.”