Steenvilla tenants vote Sohco ‘inadequate’

ROSHAN ABRAHAMS

Housing committee members of Steenvilla, in Steenberg, are in the process of planning their “next move” as they are adamant that management and staff of the NPO Sohco are “inadequate” to run their complex.

The committee has had several meetings over the past few months. The latest one was in Coniston Hall, on Thursday May 5, with the CEO Heather Maxwell, and Bonginkosi Madikizela, MEC for Human Settlements, but they still feel their concerns are not being dealt with (“Sohco tenants take gripes to human settlements”, April 13).

Some of their requests were to stop increasing rent, to stop threatening them with eviction notices, high maintenance bills, calls for better security and subsidies for their flats.

Southern Mail has been covering the story since the first tenants meeting in February where they tabled all their gripes (“Sohco housing upgroar”, Southern Mail, March 2).

The next meeting with them was after they met with Mr Madikizela and Ms Maxwell, in April. Mr Madikizela called another meeting to give the tenants a chance to speak on Thursday May 5.

Housing committee chairperson, Beryl Schouw, and her committee members spoke to Southern Mail about the latest meeting.

She said the meeting was not directed the way they wanted it. Mr Madikizela’s staff asked for just one tenant of each of the 750 units to attend the meeting.

“Our committee were well prepared to speak but they refused to let us in the hall. Eventually I was allowed in after I forcibly introduced myself as the chairperson. I saw all the tenants’ identity documents on the registration table and I called everyone out of the meeting. They started to toyi toyi until the meeting was redirected the way we wanted it.”

Questions followed after the “chaos”, she said.

Ms Schouw said one question she posed to Mr Madikizela was whether there were any subsidies available for social housing and he said only one, the Finance Linked Individual Subsidy Programme (FLISP).

The committee said many have been living in the complex for six years, since its inception, and they do not see themselves renting for “another 30 years”. They want to own their flats.

Southern Mail asked Ms Maxwell if there is an option for free housing and she said social housing is a means of providing an opportunity to rent while free housing is potentially available in other programmes of the Department of Human Settlements.

These include houses at the Pelican Park housing development such as Breaking New Ground, which caters for ownership of houses for families earning below R3 500 a month and the FLISP programme for people who earn between R3 500 and R15 000 a month.

“Social housing is providing an opportunity to rent a unit at rentals lower than normal commercial rental units. Rental housing is not free housing,” said Thuli Mvelase, Ms Maxwell’s personal assistant.

Ms Schouw said at the meeting Ms Maxwell was taken aback when asked questions about eviction notices.

Southern Mail asked Ms Maxwell why they are sending threatening eviction notices to people who can’t afford the high rent and Ms Mvelase responded: “Tenants initially apply to rent the apartments based on their income and an assessment of their ability to pay the rent for a specific unit. On an annual basis rentals are increased to allow for the effect of inflation on the cost of supplying services like maintenance, security etc, and an increase in the interest rate on loans used to co-fund the development of the property. This is non-negotiable. Where specific tenants are not able to afford the annual rental increase the company will consider measures to accommodate a family in a more affordable unit (smaller unit) where possible. If a family can no longer afford the rental and cannot be accommodated in suitable more affordable, smaller units other solutions that may include the tenant vacating the unit and finding suitably priced alternative accommodation elsewhere.”

However, housing committee member, Tina Schoor, said: “Ms Maxwell must get her story straight. We want to know who is making these decisions? In the meeting and in previous (Southern Mail) articles Ms Maxwell said the last eviction was in February last year. However, I have a tenant who was evicted in October last year. All eviction threats stopped after we visited Mr Madikizela the first time (in April).”

When asked if there is a possibility that the rent could remain the same and not increase every year, Ms Mvelase said: “No. In an inflationary situation this is not possible. The Social Housing Programme is restricted to rentals only. Sohco applied for and received institutional subsidies for the Steenberg project and that means that the Steenberg project will remain a rental project. The company has a policy which is clearly described in the individual leases (entered into by all tenants) of increasing the rent on 1 July every year. Rental increases are necessary to cater for increased operational costs such as security, cleaning, landscaping and maintenance.”

Housing committee member Jill Adams also claims that “six cars have been broken into over the past few weeks and the complex is not regulary maintained. The grass area is not maintained.”

Captain Stephen Knapp, spokes-person for Muizenberg SAPS, confirmed one reported case.

“We can further confirm that there are no other reported cases for the mentioned period.”

Another housing committee member, Sharon Davids, said security needed to be tightened. There are three security guards during the day and five at night.

She said security is slack because the security guards are not patrol-ling like they should and because of this, the committee formed a neighbourhood watch. Last week they caught a man jumping over the fence. “A few of the committee members chased the man and he escaped”.

Ms Shouw agreed that they have to take matters in their own hands because “Sohco management and staff are inadequete to run this complex. There are drug dealings going on from our security guards. We have complained to the security firm and they have removed a few bad elements.”

Southern Mail was taken on a tour to visit the “hot spots” or the “bin area” where criminals were loitering and “dealing with drugs”.

Ms Schoor said tenants have lodged a complaint to Martin Gov-ender, the manager of the Steenvilla complex and they will ask him to have a meeting soon to discuss security.

She said they have taken their plight to Mr Madikizela and Ms Maxwell and their next move will depend on “who comes to the party.”

Southern Mail asked the Department of Human Settlements for an update on the matter but despite emailing them three times over the past two weeks, we have received no reply by the time of publishing.