• LOCATION 15 | A Community in Crisis: Gentrification in Woodstock and Salt River

    Stop behind Biscuit Mill, interviews

    Now stop here, behind the Biscuit Mill. Take in the vibe of the street, and do some people watching. Can you feel the clash of two worlds?

    The Woodstock Hub insists that they have sent several notices. In fact, they say they sent the first notice years ago, in 2013. In 2014, the residents presented their case to the Rental Housing Tribunal. The Woodstock Hub says that they then offered free rental and to cover the utilities, to give residents some financial relief, and time to find alternative accommodation. But the residents stayed where they are, and in July 2016, the Western Cape High Court deemed the process equitable and granted the eviction. The residents had to be out by 1 August 2016.

    According to the law, you can only be evicted if the case has gone to court. So even if your landlord hands you a written notice, you can stay until you receive an official notice to appear in court. The court then decides whether the eviction is fair and equitable. This decision is based on two considerations: nobody should be evicted into homelessness and there needs to be meaningful engagement between the landlords and tenants. I have included a link to a useful handbook about legal details and how to resist evictions in the route description of this tour.

    Just before the eviction date, local NGO Ndifuna Ukwazi organised a protest at the Biscuit Mill. This caught the attention of Cape Town's mayor, Patricia de Lille, who delayed the eviction. But she told the residents that the City of Cape Town is under no obligation to provide alternative accommodation because it is a private eviction. This gave the residents a reason to take the City to court.

    Ndifuna Ukwazi and the residents are arguing that according to constitutional law, the City must provide alternative emergency accommodation in the area if there is a risk of homelessness, even if the eviction is private. When I recorded this tour, the outcome was still pending, but the City of Cape Town did offer residents alternative accommodation in Wolwerivier, a temporary relocation area similar to Blikkiesdorp, which the residents refused.

    Here are two of the Bromwell Street tenants, interviewed in October 2016.

    (0:03)I’m Charnelle Commando and I’ve been living here for 29 years, that’s all my life. I’ve been staying in these houses, it started with my grandmother.. All the years, all of us has been staying together, we’re like family, you know like a close-knit community. (01:14)

    (0:11) I’m Graham Beukes, I have been living here for 36 years, me and my mother we’ve been staying here, my mother’s here, say, almost 50 years. We grew up in these houses and it’s not a kwaai feeling to go live in another place now because of gangsterism, and people getting killed and so, so that’s why we don’t actually want to move from here. Yah. (0:50)

    On 29 and 30 August, Kieno Kammies spoke to Emile Engel, an organiser at Ndifuna Ukwazi. He assisted the residents with the court process. He also talked to Jacques van Embden, a director of the Woodstock Hub. Cape Talk kindly allowed me to use some excerpts from their radio show.

    (0:11)
    Emile Engel: “I can’t speak to the details of the legal process that has gone on between members of Bromwell Street and the Woodstock Hub. But the reality is that there is an eviction order, that the Woodstock Hub has the choice to effect that eviction order or not, and that these families in Bromwell Street are going to be evicted and many of them, most of them actually, don’t know where they are going to go and will likely be evicted into homelessness.”

    Of course there are two sides to the story. The Woodstock Hub's stance is that middle-income housing will make a meaningful contribution to the Woodstock community. In a press release, they explained that they have seeded a crowdfunding campaign for the residents with R50,000. They would also like to assist them in finding permanent employment in the area. They're members of the Woodstock Improvement District, and give financial and staff time contributions to education initiatives in under-privileged areas. They also work with NPO partners like Straatwerk to contribute to cleanliness, and to bring homeless citizens back into society. Here's Jacques van Emden, interviewed by Kieno Kammies on Cape Talk.

    (0:33)
    “So Kieno, I think it’s important just to deal with a couple of misconceptions that are out there. When the Hub purchased the properties, we actually contracted with the seller that the properties would be vacant on occupation. He indicated to us that they were all leases that they were in control of, and that the properties would be vacant. We didn't plan on inheriting the building with its occupants in it, and also just to deal with another misconception, the intention was never to turn the site into a parking bay. Our main business function is to bring middle income stock to urban areas, and we’ve actually got a strong reputation in the Woodstock area with apartment buildings that we have for being decent and fair landlords. So the intention was never to have the occupants as part of the transaction, and it certainly wasn’t to make a parking bay. But putting that aside, we obviously were faced with an impossible situation where we suddenly had the property transferred into our name and only one of the five properties was vacant and at this stage we decided to ensure that we take the longest and costliest route, but more importantly, that ensured fairness and protection for the occupants." (01: 44)

    [cut]

    (02:55)
    "Kieno: You said the type of stock you’re putting in place would be what again?
    It’s middle income rental units.
    K: When we talk middle income rental, what are we talking?
    It’s per rental price between R5000-R9000
    K: R5000-R9000 per month, right? And let’s say it was sold, what would the value of one of those rental units be?
    Well the values within the city seem to have flown quite extensively, so in Woodstock the pricing has even moved quite dramatically which is why, for us, we actually focus on bringing rental stock to the market place because we think there is a desperate need for well-managed and reasonable rental stock available close to the city" (03:40)

    Kieno asked Jacques another important question. But before you hear it, I want to give you some context. A recent municipal decision that arguably contributed to urban generation, and more directly evictions, is the City of Cape Town's rezoning overhaul of 2013. Properties surrounding Victoria and Albert Road -- which is the road you are on -- went from being zoned as residential to mixed-use properties. This means broad development rights, like medium-density flats, businesses and industry. Properties close by rose in value, and it is said that this has encouraged buyers like the Woodstock Hub to purchase properties in Bromwell Street, behind the Biscuit Mill.

    Now continue straight to the corner as you listen to the interview.

    (07:30) K: According to the zoning regulations, would you be allowed to build the type of rental stock that you’re building at the moment prior to the change?
    Not on those sites exactly, but on other sites…
    K: Okay, so that’s my point. It was the City who then rezoned that particular site for those purposes and my qualms are not really with you guys, you seem to be doing the right stuff, it’s the rezoning and the consequences that the rezoning has. (08:09)

    Keep walking straight.

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A Community in Crisis: Gentrification in Woodstock and Salt River