Evicted residents say they are being treated as vagrants while the city struggles for answers, writes Kwanele Sosibo.
Mlungisi “MaKelloggs” Ntuli asked – half jokingly – whether he should take his Nike cap off for the photograph. He was in a room he shares with seven other people and did not want to create the impression that he could afford to live anywhere else than at the inner-city Ekuthuleni Shelter, run by Metro Evangelical Services.
Ntuli and 55 other people have been living at the shelter since being moved from a disused carpet factory building at 7 Saratoga Avenue in Jo’burg’s Berea at the end of April. The shelter was made available to the City of Johannesburg to meet its Constitutional Court-ordered obligation to accommodate people evicted from the privately owned building.
It follows that Ntuli would try to manage perceptions of him and his fellow tenants. Perceptions and attitudes, rather than practicality and level-headedness, have been the norm since receiving their first eviction application in 2006.
But they are not happy with the move. The Ekuthuleni residents say they are subjected to house rules that treat them as vagrants, which might explain the uncertain look on Ntuli’s face. Every day between 8am and 5pm, they have to vacate the premises.
“On Saturday and Sunday, I just sat in the park because I had nowhere to go,” Ntuli said.
“So this means that we can only eat before eight in the morning and again after five in the afternoon.”
Former Saratoga Avenue residents who could afford the minimum R600-a-month rent moved into the MBV2 Building, managed by the Johannesburg Social Housing Company (Joshco), on the corner of Quartz and Hancock streets.
The Constitutional Court ruled in December last year that the city had to plan ahead when it wanted to evict poor people from its own or privately owned buildings.
The court issued an eviction order directing the residents of Saratoga Avenue to vacate the building no later than April 15 2012 as the property’s owners, Blue Moonlight Properties 39, sought to use the space for other purposes.
As part of the ruling, the court declared the city’s housing policy unconstitutional because it undermined the equality of the poor by distinguishing between those living in privately owned and city-owned properties.
The court then directed the city to accommodate the Saratoga dwellers in a temporary shelter no later than April 1 this year.
The city missed the deadline and, after the Centre for Applied Legal Studies (Cals) initiated contempt of court proceedings on behalf of the residents in the South Gauteng High Court, it was compelled to provide shelter by April 30.
Insiders in the city’s housing department say the municipality has yet to draw up a temporary accommodation strategy, as ordered by the Constitutional Court.
But the city’s acting executive director of housing, Walter Melato, said the Constitutional Court had assisted the city to streamline its housing strategy and policy, but would not provide a copy of it.
During the Constitutional Court hearings, the city claimed it did not have a budget to accommodate those evicted. It said it could not predict, plan or budget for the emergencies covered by chapter 12 of the National Housing Code. Therefore, all that could be expected of it was to respond in an ad hoc manner as emergencies arose by applying to the Gauteng province for financial assistance.
The city was duly criticised by the court for this stance.
Stuart Wilson, director of litigation at the Socio-Economic Rights Institute, said that between the Centre for Applied Legal Studies, the Legal Resource Centre and the institute, there were probably between 20 and 30 eviction cases involving several thousand people that could go to court.
“Affordable housing now is offered by Joshco, but Joshco’s low-income housing stock is a response to the Olivia Road case [in which the Constitutional Court ruled in 2008 that the city was obliged to provide temporary accommodation for the poor it evicts from unsafe properties],” Wilson said.
”[The] MBV [building] was only made available because the city was being sued by people in bad buildings. Before that there was no accommodation of any sort. Now they make it sound like active charity, or that it was always part of their policy, but up to until December 2011 the city was saying that they had no obligation [to the poor].”
According to Joshco’s pricing structure, an individual has to earn at least R2 400 a month to qualify for a R600 a month housing unit. In the inner city, that would probably mean a communal housing block with shared toilets, ablution and cooking facilities.
From the residents point of view, the only discernible, co-ordinated response by the city has been to dump the problem, placing them in badly maintained, deteriorating “decant” facilities, and offer counselling by social workers.
“My clients are not a ‘shelter’ population,” Cals attorney Kathleen Hardy said. “They are not vagrants and they are not homeless. They have been living together as an organised community for years.
“Many do not view themselves as individuals who need to undergo programmes [such as the extended social package].”
Wilson agreed and said the city ignored structural poverty, which would not change in six months’ time, unless the economy improved dramatically.
“With the shelter, you just defer the problem and do not solve it. If any of those people can’t move to MBV, the city must accommodate them in partly subsidised housing. Everybody can afford something. They must move them along to where the rent matches the income.”
For Ntuli, being counselled for being poor was insulting.
“There’s nothing we can do for they have the power,” he said.
Tomorrow he and the rest of his friends know one thing for sure: they will again have to walk the streets aimlessly like vagrants.
City’s social package meant to streamline accommodation
The former residents of 7 Saratoga Avenue in Jo’burg’s Berea now staying at the Ekuthuleni Shelter have been enrolled by the City Johannesburg for a social counselling programme. It is part of the city’s extended social package devised for indigent rate-paying households.
But many feel they were coerced into registering for the programme and that they do not need counselling, just affordable rent.
The Mail & Guardian spoke to the City of Johannesburg communications officer Nthatise Madingoane about the application of the programme.
How will the extended social package be applied to the people being housed at the Ekuthuleni shelter?
The system that was used to enrol and profile the occupiers of 7 Saratoga Avenue was the city’s social service profiling and referral system for all pro-poor interventions, until now most often used as the registration system for property-based indigency under the expanded social package.
The system is, in fact, designed as a gateway to a wider range of social service interventions delivered by non-governmental organisations, city departments and other agencies of state - a single window for the poor.
In this case, all occupiers were registered as technically homeless. All who registered are offered the opportunity to discuss their situation with a social worker at the initial point of enrolment, and referrals from that process are made on a case-by-case basis and tracked by the system.
This allows the city to capture all relevant data digitally and provide a platform for tracking the different interventions for people with different levels of means, specifically social housing, rental and shelter placement with a non-profit partner. The shelter is transitional and is designed to provide wraparound support for the clients to leave shelter life as quickly as possible and establish themselves in a stable, self-sufficient home.
What was the objective, considering that, according to the residents’ legal representatives, they do not see themselves as “vagrants”?
“Vagrant” is an emotive term and at no stage has the city or any of its representatives applied that term to the people going through this process. The occupiers of 7 Saratoga were not living on the inner-city streets, but the majority do not have means that rise to the level of a social rental clientele. Only 40% were able to meet basic financial requirements and carry the monthly costs of even highly subsidised social rental [units] managed by the Johannesburg Social Housing Company. [Some share rentals, as low as R600 a month, in contrast to the private sector, where rents are rarely below R1800 to R2000 a unit].
The remainder, those with lower and more volatile incomes, and their dependents were only able to continue their residence in the inner city by residing in an abandoned building with no services, no formal management and hence no formal maintenance obligation.
Has the programme been applied before to people living in temporary accommodation after an eviction?
This is the first time the extended social package, single-window approach has been used to profile a client group seeking alternative accommodation after an eviction. The process and its outcomes are obviously being carefully tracked to inform future applications.—Kwanele Sosibo