/ 27 August 2008

Inner-city Jo’burg residents relocated

The successful implementation of a Constitutional Court order on finding alternative housing for people about to be evicted from two ”bad” inner-city buildings shows what is possible when the rights of the poor are considered by the state, the Centre for Applied Legal Studies (Cals) said on Wednesday.

This follows the relocation, without eviction, of 450 people in terms of a court-ordered negotiation from San Jose in Johannesburg’s Berea and 197 Main Street in the city to new temporary accommodation.

The City of Johannesburg had tried to evict them from the buildings on the grounds of health concerns after the owners apparently abandoned the building, but in March 2006 Johannesburg High Court Judge Mahomed Jajbhay dismissed the city’s eviction application because the residents had nowhere better to live.

The matter went all the way to the Constitutional Court, which ordered the city and representatives of the residents to find a solution.

Lawyers for the city worked with the residents and their legal representatives and two buildings — the MBV Hospital in the CBD and the Old Perm building in Hillbrow — were identified, explained Stuart Wilson of Cals.

The city provided extra fire extinguishers and other measures to address to their health concerns, while preparations were made to adapt the buildings for their relocation.

Needs and income assessments were undertaken, lease agreements were arranged and residents allocated units. The move was finally conducted between August 23 and 26, said Wilson.

The arrangement was endorsed by the Constitutional Court at the end of 2007.

”This is a victory for the Bill of Rights and the rule of law. It is noteworthy that the residents of San Jose and 197 Main Street relocated freely and voluntarily,” said Wilson.

”Not one person was forcibly evicted from either of the properties. I hope that this spells the end of forced evictions in the name of inner-city regeneration.”

Wilson explained that the deal was that they pay a deposit in instalments of R25, R50 and R75 for the first three months for occupation of the rooms with shared kitchen and ablution facilities, with rent kicking in in the fourth month for the residents, who are considered poor.

Individuals with no familial connections will share rooms that will be partitioned for privacy.

He said the contribution of the residents’ committees was ”invaluable” in taking into account the residents’ needs before their move.

The building will be managed by the City of Johannesburg, which will also arrange cleaning services, and a tenants’ committee will hold the building manager and residents to account.

City of Johannesburg spokesperson Gabu Tugwana said the city was pleased with the end result, but stressed that their new accommodation was temporary and residents and the City of Johannesburg will negotiate permanent solutions that may include shelters, flats in other city-owned buildings or rentals in the private sector.

”I think it showed a good working relationship. It shows how conflict can be avoided and how communities can work together,” he said.

He said the court battles over the last three years often saw strong disagreements between the City of Johannesburg and the legal representatives of the property occupants.

”Last weekend’s move is therefore notable for its spirit of cooperation between the community and local government.”

He said considerable preparation went into it with everyone working closely throughout.

”A lot of effort went into negotiating room allocations, lease agreements, house rules and the process of the move itself,” he said.

”But in the end it was worth it. We had a virtually trouble-free move.”

The city would assess whether the old buildings could be saved, or whether they should be demolished. — Sapa