Jo'burg evictions in breach of law, court told

The Johannesburg municipality’s evictions of people from derelict buildings should be declared in breach of the law, the Constitutional Court was told on Tuesday.

The municipality should also be told to fix up its problems, submitted lawyer Geoff Budlender for the Centre for Housing Rights and Evictions, a Swiss-based NGO appearing as amicus curiae (friend of the court).

A group of people threatened with eviction have approached the highest court in the land to challenge an earlier victory for the municipality in the Supreme Court of Appeal.

Budlender submitted that the city did not have an emergency programme for people affected by such evictions. “It’s for the city to put up the plan.”

He recommended that it be required to publish periodically what it would do, when it would do so and what had been done to address the needs of people earmarked for eviction who were poor and had to be near economic opportunities.

“The court should say there is a hole and you must fix it.”

He contended that the city would need the assistance of the national and provincial governments to remedy its breach.

In evidence earlier on Tuesday, the court heard that the municipality ignored plans to address the problem of housing when threatening tenants of derelict buildings with eviction.

Lawyer Paul Kennedy submitted that alternative accommodation at Diepsloot and Protea South was out of the range of economic opportunities for such poor people.

The areas were far-flung and “would render them incapable of earning a proper living for their basic needs”.

The court’s judges questioned whether finding alternative accommodation for evictees would see them placed at the top of existing waiting lists for housing.

However, Kennedy maintained they would find themselves joining the back of the queue—which in the case of Diepsloot was already 300 000 families long.

National housing policy made provision for money to be made available to cities to help find alternative acceptable accommodation for people in his clients’ situation.

He told the court the Johannesburg municipality had long allowed residents to live in derelict buildings, acting against them only when commercial developments came on the scene.

In an affidavit submitted to the court, the City of Johannesburg outlined moves under way to meet the housing needs of all, including the poor. The municipality was converting nine buildings into emergency shelters for those who are being evicted.

Buildings such as the Chelsea Building in Hillbrow were scheduled to be completed by November, while the MBV Hospital in Joubert Park was being upgrade in two phases.
The north side of the building was expected to be completed by the end of October and the south wing in February 2008. Rentals would be made available at the Hospital Hill building next June.

The city adopted the Inner City Regeneration Charter after a “summit” in May. At the summit, it was decided that between 50 000 and 75 000 new residential units in or near the inner city would be built by 2015, with 20 000 for lower income people.

“In its submission to the Constitutional Court, the city argues that it has the obligation to eradicate instances of dangerous living within its area of jurisdiction.

“It acted upon expert advice that certain buildings were time bombs with real fire and disease hazards.

“In the light of this advice, the city’s decision to evacuate these buildings can be considered both lawful and rational,” spokesperson Gabu Tugwana said.—Sapa

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