City of Cape Town: We can’t afford to develop emergency housing in the inner city

The City of Cape Town cannot afford to develop emergency housing in the central business district, because the cost of development is too expensive. In the Western Cape High Court on Tuesday, the municipality argued that residents facing homelessness will have to travel some 30km for emergency housing.

The Bromwell case returned to the high court on Tuesday where the court heard arguments from the City of Cape Town and residents of Bromwell Street in Salt River, near the Cape Town inner city. The residents have asked the court to declare that the City should provide emergency accommodation within the vicinity of Salt River. The City has told residents that it can only provide accommodation in Wolwerivier, a desolate settlement near Atlantis 30km away from the inner city.

While the municipality has plans in the pipeline to develop social and mixed-income housing in Woodstock and Salt River, it argued in court that it cannot afford the high costs of developing emergency housing. Social housing is permanent housing, the City defines, while emergency accommodation is temporary accommodation until new homes are found for those affected by evictions or natural disasters.

“As regards to emergency housing, it is correct that there are no developments in the immediate City centre and surrounds,” the City said in court papers.

“The reasons for this are complex but include: (a) the excessively high costs of developing an emergency housing settlement in the City.”

Other reasons the City cites are: 

  1. Properties in the inner city have costly rates 
  2. Scarcity of land in the inner city 
  3. High demand for property in the inner city

Last year, a report from Frank Knight, a global property consulting firm, revealed that Cape Town has the most expensive property prices in South Africa and  ranks third in the world in terms of its annual increase on prices. Shanghai ranked second, while Vancouver topped the list. 

Richard Hardie, a manager for property group Anne Porter in the Atlantic Seaboard – which covers suburbs close to the inner city – said the city’s property market was bolstered by both domestic and international demand.

“Cape Town is benefiting from a number of factors, including those commuting to Johannesburg for business but residing in Cape Town, a growing trend; a university providing little supply of 6 680 residential placements with 27 000 students; an increasingly progressive central business district with increasing residential units and lifestyle options to match including restaurants, bars, art galleries and gyms; international buyers taking advantage of the weaker rand in the latter part of 2015, early 2016; as well as the weather and lifestyle that Cape Town provides.”

For estate agents, the rise of property prices in profitable areas of Cape Town mean good business, but the Bromwell residents are facing some of the costs.

Clinics, schools, and looking forward
In court on Tuesday, acting Judge Mark Sher asked attorneys for the City how life in Wolwerivier would impact the daily lives of the Salt River residents. The settlement currently has a makeshift clinic in a small white structure that the City says is open once a week.

“Is the response that all those people must go to the once a week clinic in Wolwerivier?,” Sher asked.

“What if people want to go shopping? Must they go to Atlantis or Melkbosstrand?”

Wolwerivier has been criticised by housing pressure group Reclaim the City, who has campaigned on behalf of Bromwell residents, because it lacks schools, a reliable clinic, and shops that are in the community.

In court papers, the Bromwell residents outlined their need for a clinic. Brenda Smith (75) suffers arthritis and high blood pressure. She receives medicine from the Woodstock clinic. Mogamat Abels (10) has a heart condition which requires him to go to the Red Cross Children’s Hospital. The hospital is 6km away from Salt River, but 30km away from Wolwerivier.

Attorneys for the Bromwell residents questioned why no social housing had been built in inner city Cape Town. Sheldon Magardie, representing the tenants, said that purchase price for property in the area ranged between R100 000 to R300 000 in 2003. In 2015, it escalated to R1.6 million.

Earlier in 2017, the City announced it planned to develop 10 sites in the inner city for affordable housing, including Woodstock and Salt River. However, the Bromwell residents, and others who face homelessness, would have to apply and meet certain requirements before they can be selected to live in these developments. 

The case before the Western Cape High Court could set a precedent that determines if municipalities are bound to deliver emergency housing within a certain distance of where evictees live. As yet, the Bromwell residents do not know where they will go.

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Raeesa Pather
Raeesa Pather
Ra’eesa Pather is a Cape Town-based general news and features journalist.

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