Sohco tenants take gripes to human settlements

ROSHAN ABRaHAMS

The Steenvilla housing committee has taken their housing concerns to the MEC for Human Settlements, Bonginkosi Madikizela.

Steenvilla is a Sohco housing complex in Steenberg.

This motion was initiated after residents felt their gripes had fallen on deaf ears. They had sent a memorandum with their concerns to Sohco housing CEO Heather Maxwell (“Sohco housing uproar”, Southern Mail, March 2).

Tenants said they disapproved of Sohco management as they were receiving threatening letters of evictions when in arrears; were taxed high rental and maintenance fees; felt the complex needed an upgrade; and wanted subsidies to buy the flats.

Ms Maxwell told Southern Mail last month that Sohco’s social housing developments are partly funded through government housing subsidy programmes and partly funded through bank loans borrowed by Sohco.

“The Steenvillas development was developed by Sohco on land made available for social housing by the City of Cape Town through a long-term lease.”

Ms Maxwell had said that no evictions had taken place over the past year, and that the last eviction was a year ago.

She had also denied allegations about about high rentals. “Sohco calculates necessary annual rental increases to cover increases in operating costs and notifies all tenants two calendar months ahead of any rental increases. Notification is made by May 1each year and the rental increase implemented on July 1.”

However, the Steenvilla housing committee said they want “consultation via meetings to discuss whether they can afford an increase in rental”.

After not being “heard” Steen-villa housing committee arranged to meet with Mr Madikizela on Tuesday April 5.

Ward councillor Marita Petersen also attended the meeting.

Chairperson of the Sohco housing committee, Beryl Schouw, said they raised their concerns about the annual increase in rent, and apparent threatening letters of eviction given to tenants who are late with payments.

Ms Schouw showed Southern Mail the high maintenance bills for small items such as R100 for a fused light bulb, R100 for a cupboard door to be fixed and R100 for a water pipe to be fixed in one tenant’s apartment.

But Ms Maxwell said: “Residents have three options with respect to maintenance work which falls within the responsibility of a tenant to complete. They can complete the maintenance themselves, or get a contractor of their choice to complete the work, or request that Sohco’s maintenance contractors complete the work. If a tenant opts for Sohco’s maintenance contractors to complete the work, a quote for the work is given and the tenant’s agreement is confirmed prior to the work proceeding.

“Maintenance work is completed in the complex on an ongoing basis. If any resident is aware of maintenance work required, Sohco requests that this be brought to the attention of the office so that it can be attended to,” Ms Maxwell said.

Pensioners were also not considered, said exco member Tina Schoor: “The pensioners pay R1 200 plus rental and their pension is R1 500. I asked a pensioner how he gets food, with so little left, he said he said, ‘I go squirreling from house to house for food’.”

Lease agreements have been changed since 2010. Ms Schouw said in her lease agreement there is nothing about charging visitors a fee to sleep overnight. But Anwar Joseph, another exco member said in his lease a fee of R100 is charged for any visitor who stays overnight. But Sohco said the amendment to the lease agreement was made to deter permanent sub-tenanting. No tenant has ever been charged a fee for an overnight visitor

Mr Madikizela sent an email to Ms Maxwell asking for an urgent meeting on Monday April 11, to discuss the Steenvilla project. The MEC also requested that all evictions be put on hold until the meeting with him.

Zalisile Mbali, spokesperson for MEC Madikizela, said: “In a meeting held (Tuesday April 5) with MEC Madikizela, it was agreed that Sohco would investigate each case and report back to the MEC and subsequently a public meeting will be convened with the tenants to provide a report back.”

* On Monday April 11, Ms Schoor said a studio apartment at Steenvilla complex caught alight while the tenant was out, on Sunday evening.

Theo Layne, station comman-der and spokesperson for Fire and Rescue Service, said a pensioner’s apartment caught alight due to an electrical fault, at 7.54pm, causing alot of damage. No injuries were reported. Sohco said they are currently investigating the cause of the fire while prioritising repairs to the unit.