Cape Town inner city center has managed to do what other inner cities in South Africa have not quite managed to achieve yet. It’s retained big corporates’ headquarter offices and is a thriving economic hub. And it’s not just a tourist attraction but attractive for locals as a place to call home - if you can afford it.
It is conveniently central to economic opportunities.
But Cape Town inner city rentals do not come cheap. Over the years, the property prices have been soaring. Many residents have been forced to move out of the city because they simply cannot afford the rising rentals. Upmarket and swanky apartments are popping up all over and the prices are hefty. With the swanky make over, the entire space needs to compliment the upmarket look. And that doesn’t necessarily include low-cost or not-so-swanky buildings surrounding the new developments.
For over a decade, Cape Town residents have been feeling the brunt of the rising property prices and the city has made an attempt to create alternative accommodation for those who cannot afford to live in or close to the city. However, some of these areas are at least 30 kilometres out of the city. Many of the people asking for affordable housing are your ordinary South Africans who work and study in the inner city.
When you hear of people just occupying a building and living in it without permission, it obviously sounds like lawless behaviour (which it is - it is illegal). When you speak to the people living in those buildings, you hear heartbreaking stories of families separated due to landlords evicting tenants. For instance, Wilson the caretaker for Sea Point. As a caretaker of a building in Sea Point he has to live on the property to be able to fulfill his duties. For years, he lived in the tiniest room with his two daughters. When a new chairperson took over the body corporate of that building she decided Winston’s daughters should not live with their father. And just like that the two daughters were forced to live in an unfamiliar space in Khayelitsha, where they had to be up at 4am to make it to school by 8am, also having to bear the additional transport costs.
What Reclaim the City is asking for are houses that are affordable to a caretaker, a receptionist at the gym, a nursery school teacher, a domestic worker, someone who works an honest job in the city but cannot afford the travel expenses to work. A lot of people spend more than half of their salary on transport, so having affordable housing closer to economic opportunities would help so many families.
The City of Cape Town opened its very first transitional housing in Woodstock this month. It’s a great start but the first post-democracy. The City also needs to admit it needs to reimagine how public land is used. It leases out golf and bowling clubs for as little as R1000 per annum. How city officials justify this is by saying the cost to maintain that land exceeds millions per annum. These golf and bowling clubs on public land are being used for private use for a select elite few. The suggestion is not to get rid of all golf and bowling clubs but to incorporate social housing plans on some of this prime land that is largely under-utilised.
Some look at Reclaim the City as criminals wanting prime real estate without being able to afford it, but these are ever-day people we all know. I was amazed at the order of how the old Woodstock hospital runs. They have really gone out of their way to not be a “burden” to the neighbours. There’s order, rules, elected leaders and structures. A system that shows that perhaps social housing in prime areas will not mean doom and gloom. It also seems the City is coming to the table and has not sent a force to remove these occupants (also because they would have to provide alternative accommodation for them which there currently isn’t any really). The City earmarked 11 sites in Woodstock that will be used for social housing. What the City seems to understand now is that it’s not just about creating affordable housing but creating affordable housing in the inner city specifically.
The law has to be abided by, but municipalities also have a mandate to redress apartheid spatial planning which still directly opposes the progress that could be made.
Written by: Masa Kekana