Communicare, a non-profit social-housing company, is going ahead with plans to demolish its Welverdiend residence in Rondebosch, despite the threat of legal action from holdout tenants.
Megan Lennert, Communicare’s stakeholder relations officer, says there are 39 tenants at the three-storey block of 115 flats, of which 18 are scheduled to relocate while 21 are still undecided.
“Since 2019 we managed to relocate 59 tenants from Welverdiend to some of the facilities in Dreyersdal, Bothasig Gardens, Straton Court, Musgrave Park and Creswell and there were some tenants who have opted for their own private accommodation.”
Communicare has argued that the 70-year-old building has significant structural problems that can no longer be repaired.
Thabo Mashologu, Communicare’s general manager for property development and investment, said the plan was to build 175 new affordable housing units at the site.
“This will be done in order to meet the urgent need to address the housing crisis in Cape Town and, where possible, to increase the high quality of affordable housing in well located areas.”
Communicare had to get an independent heritage impact assessment (HIA) done before it could get demolition approval because the building is more than 60 years old.
“The results of the HIA report gave reasons for why it can be demolished, and its open to interested and affected parties to comment and appeal against its findings,” Mr Mashologu said.
There was panic among Welverdiend residents in October 2019 when Communicare announced plans to demolish the block. Communicare chief executive officer Anthea Houston said they had started engaging with residents then so there would be enough time to help vulnerable tenants with relocation.
However, Communicare tenant beneficiary representative Neville Peterson, who is representing the remaining Welverdiend tenants, said they would use all available legal channels to fight the demolition.
Mr Petersen said that while Communicare claimed to comply with all the municipal requirements for a demolition order, it could not prove that the building was in the poor state it claimed. He accused Communicare of purposefully neglecting the building to justify the demolition.
It was worrying that the Welverdiend tenants, who were social-housing beneficiaries, had not been offered places at the new development, he said.
Another tenant representative, Anele Zwelonke, who has lived at the block since 2014, said they would challenge Communicare in court.
“We feel that Communicare has not had proper discussions with us,” he said. “We spoke with them in October 2019 and then last year March in a session mediated by the South African Human Rights Commission.”
Many of the remaining residents had made Rondebosch their home, he said. “We asked Communicare that if we relocate would they subsidise our transport for work or for children to go to school.” That question had gone unanswered, he said.
Mr Mashologu said Communicare would offer families wishing to stay close to Rondebosch accommodation at its Wynberg facility, and those wanting to return to the Welverdiend site once it had been redeveloped – and that could happen by 2023 – would be given the option to apply to do so.
Ms Lennert said Communicare was offering the remaining Welverdiend tenants alternative accommodation at no extra cost. “Should Communicare’s offer be rejected,” she added, “the organisation will have no option but to cancel lease agreements and issue a notice to vacate within the next six months.”
Tenants had had more than a year to consider the offers of alternative accommodation, she said.
Marian Nieuwoudt, mayoral committee member for spatial planning and environment, said the City had only recently received the heritage impact assessment.
Heritage Western Cape did not respond to questions before publication.
Contact heritage consultant Claire Abrahamse at firstname.lastname@example.org or 083 718 1919 for a copy of the HIA report. Objections or comments should be submitted by Thursday February 25 to Clare Abrahamse, P.O. Box 910, Cape Town, 8000.