‘Make Cape Town’s housing waiting list public!’

Over 300 People from Manenberg and surrounding areas attended the launch of the housing waiting lists campaign on Saturday. The Housing Assembly says the Western Cape has dismally failed to address the housing crisis. Photo by Chris Gilili

Pensioners who have waited for more than 20 years for a house have lost hope of ever escaping living in backyard rooms and shacks.

Approximately 630,000 people are still sitting on the housing waiting list in the Western Cape, according to The Housing Assembly. On Saturday, the housing advocacy organisation, joined by the Legal Resources Centre (LRC) and hundreds of people without houses from Manenberg and surrounding communities, launched the ‘Accountability on the waiting list’ campaign. It is aimed at pushing the government to address the housing crisis in the Western Cape and to shed light on the dire situation faced by families who have endured decades on the waiting list for decent housing. 

Some individuals have waited for up to and over 20 years for houses. “There is a failure by the City of Cape Town to comply with the requirements granting individuals access to housing developments based on their date of registration in the register. Many members of the Manenberg community have expressed feeling overlooked despite being on the City’s housing needs register for an extended period. Additionally, there is a lack of clarity from the City regarding the allocation process based on registration dates,” the LRC states in its report. 

The Housing Assembly in a statement released on Friday said, “The failure of local authorities to adhere to transparent allocation processes and prioritize individuals based on their registration date perpetuates the housing crisis in our communities. Our parents have been waiting for houses for a very long time.”

Pensioners lose hope of getting houses while alive 

Sharief Engelbrecht (63) from Mitchells Plain, said he has been waiting for a house since 1995. He shares a rented backyard room with his daughter and grandchildren where they pay a R3,500 rent per month. Documents, seen by Elitsha, show that a house was approved for Engelbrecht in a development in Valhalla Park in October 2016.

He has been sent from pillar to post over the years, and his health has deteriorated since suffering a stroke. He pulls out a red small card, which shows his details, the City of Cape Town logo and the date when he applied for a house. “Maybe they are waiting for me to die first, and I will be allocated a house. I have lost all hope; I don’t know how many trips I have made to the City of Cape Town offices to inquire about my house. I was told I qualify for a house, on phase one of the Valhalla Park housing project development, but I was surprised when people were moved in and I was left outside. 

“Why is the government giving me a pack of lies? The city told me that’s not their project, it belongs to the province; when I went to the province offices, they said it’s a city project. Now I don’t even know who is lying,” Engelbrecht told Elitsha.

Sharief Engelbrecht, 63, from Mitchells Plain holding up the red card showing his initial housing application date in 1995. He says he was approved for a house in Valhalla Park, but is yet to receive a house. Photo by Chris Gilili

He said they hope the government can stop playing with their feelings and give people houses. “Now, I am just fighting for my grandkids to have a home when I die. Because we keep moving from place to place. I don’t know if this is now about racism or what. The Civic Centre in Cape Town blocked me, after they were told I am coming to inquire. Will they give me my house when I have passed on? Because I have proof that I have been approved for a house. I just want what is right,” he added. 

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Another elderly person who has despaired of ever living in her own house is Gloria Bowers. She and her husband are disabled and live in a small back room they rent in Manenberg. Documents she has prove she applied in 1997 for a house at the Human Settlements office. Now, 60 years old, she has been waiting in limbo since then. “I initially applied for a house in 1997 and have been waiting since then. I have been patiently going to check the status of my house. In 2004 when I went to the city council, I was told that my name suddenly did not appear on the waiting list. I don’t know how that happens. I reapplied in 2006, and have been going in every now and then and told the same thing over and over, that my name is not on the waiting list. What is more painful, I know people who have never been on the waiting list, but they have houses. I have old kids, they are unemployed. I cannot chase them away. There is no privacy at all in our space because it’s a tiny room. I don’t know how long I must wait. For disabled people, the environment we stay in is very bad, but we try to make the best of it,” said Bowers. 

Ndifuna Ukwazi is campaigning for the housing waiting lists to be made public to increase transparency and accountability within the housing allocation system. Archive photo by Asive Mabula.

Lack of transparency and accountability hinders housing allocation

Kashiefa Achmat, chairperson and organiser at The Housing Assembly, said, “We are tired of talking about the waiting list. We believe this waiting list could even be a myth – there could be no waiting list. It’s heartbreaking, the fact that we are 30 years into a democracy that was supposed to work for us but nothing has changed; some people have waited even more that 30 years for decent houses. It was Human Rights Day, just last week, but how can our people celebrate while they stay in shacks, and overcrowded spaces?”

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Achmat said it was disturbing that the waiting list is not apparently checked to determine if housing is being allocated in order. “The government does not take our people seriously. We chose to launch the campaign in Manenberg, because that is where we did the groundwork. But, the crisis affects many areas in Cape Town and the entire province. We hope we can push together with the people, and with the help of the LRC, and build a court case against the Western Cape government. They must be held accountable for the injustice. We will work together with the people,” Achmat said.

Attorney at Ndifuna Ukwazi Law Centre, Jonty Cogger said that making the housing waiting lists public would increase transparency and accountability within the housing allocation system. “By allowing the public to access this information, there can be greater scrutiny of the allocation process and identification of areas where improvements are needed. However, it’s crucial to ensure that individuals’ privacy and safety are protected, especially considering the sensitive nature of housing needs. Any public disclosure of waiting lists should be accompanied by measures to safeguard vulnerable individuals and communities,” he said. 

Cogger said that the housing crisis in the Western Cape is both substantial and urgent. “The shortage of affordable housing, coupled with rising property prices and rental costs, has left thousands of families without adequate shelter. This crisis not only affects individuals’ basic human rights but also exacerbates socio-economic inequalities within our communities,” said Cogger. 

Private sector housing ‘delivery’

City of Cape Town MMC for Human Settlements, Carl Pophaim, said that they are working with the private sector to deliver houses. “Due to dwindling national grant funding, the city is strategically repositioning [itself] to enable much more private sector housing delivery, especially by speeding up land release for private sector-led development, and by supporting micro-developers already delivering thousands of opportunities in townships.

“The mayoral priority of the Accelerated Land Release for Affordable Housing programme is prioritising 50 city-owned land parcels for release to the private sector with the objective of developing affordable housing opportunities for Capetonians over the next couple of years. In addition, the city has for many years called for the release of several large pieces of well-located national government land. We estimate that 100,000 social housing opportunities are possible at sites such as Wingfield, Youngsfield, Ysterplaat and the parliamentary village,” said Pophaim. 

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About Chris Gilili 65 Articles
Chris Gilili, a 23 year old freelance journalist based in East London. Graduated from Walter Sisulu University media studies school in 2015. Had a stint with Independent Media, in sports writing. Passionate about news and the media.