Speed up social housing, say activists

Occupants of the old Woodstock Hospital described experiences of growing up in Woodstock, of being evicted and of occupying the building, which they call Cissie Gool House.

The City has failed to make good on promises to deliver affordable housing in Woodstock, Salt River and the inner city, say social housing activists.

It’s a charge the City denies, saying activist groups are themselves to blame for delaying housing projects by illegally occupying buildings.

On Saturday, during what they dubbed the “Empty Plots and Promises Commemoration Walking Tour”, 100-odd activists from Ndifuna Ukwazi and Reclaim the City visited several sites that have been identified for social housing.

The tour included Albert Road, where families were evicted to make way for exclusive developments, and the old Woodstock Hospital, which is called Cissie Gool House by the housing activists after it was occupied by members of Reclaim the City in 2017.

Some of the occupants of the old Woodstock Hospital described experiences of growing up in Woodstock, of being evicted and of occupying the building.

Reclaim the City spokeswoman Karen Hendricks said the City lacked the necessary urgency to develop some 11 sites the City had identified for affordable housing and had instead spent its resources on fighting a protracted legal battle to evict more than 300 families occupying the old Woodstock Hospital.

The two organisations want the City to deliver affordable housing in well-located areas to accommodate people who could otherwise not afford to live close to the inner city, and to undo the legacy of spatial apartheid.

Just last month, the city council gave approval for two proposed social-housing projects, which could deliver more than 700 dwellings for low-income families in the city centre, to go out for public comment.

The one is at the Pickwick site in Salt River, where the plan is to build a 1 800-unit development with 600 of the units being for social housing. The other site is in Newmarket Street, in central Cape Town, where 365 mixed-market units and 165 social-housing units are planned. (“Social housing projects gain momentum,” Tatler, Thursday June 2).

In a statement on Saturday, mayoral committee member for human settlements Malusi Booi challenged the claim that the City was not doing enough to provide affordable housing. He accused both Reclaim the City and Ndifuna Ukwazi of delaying projects by “hijacking” buildings.

“The orchestrated building hijackings of March 2017 by Ndifuna Ukwazi under the Reclaim the City banner, in particular, have delayed flagship social-housing projects in central Cape Town. We are determined to fast-track this social housing through the correct legal channels.

“One of our major constraints in accelerating the pipeline of affordable housing – especially on certain inner-city sites – is the cost and time burden of unlawful occupation, and the lengthy court processes the City has to follow to unlock otherwise suitable land. Securing land and buildings also presents a significant cost burden over time, but it is essential to protect valuable land for affordable housing development.”

Mr Booi added that various social-housing projects across the metro were under way and the mayoral committee was also expected to recommend to council the handover of the Salt River Market social-housing site to social-housing non-profit company Communicare for the start of construction.

The 11 earmarked affordable-housing sites are the Pickwick Road Transitional Housing Site, Pine Road, Dillon Road, Salt River Market, James Street – all in Salt River; the remainder of Pickwick Road, New Market Street, the old Woodstock Hospital and the old hospital’s park – all in Woodstock; and Upper Canterbury Street and the Fruit and Veg site – both in the inner city.