Ahead of elections next month, Cape Town backyard dwellers – reported to number 180,000 – have demanded that the current housing database of the City of Cape Town be investigated, that corrupt officials be “ironed out” and that the housing waiting list be “more transparent and open to public scrutiny”.
The backyard dwellers have also appealed to provincial and local government structures to develop a housing policy that will address their needs.
About 150 backyard dwellers, representing 13 backyard dweller organisations, handed over a memorandum to Western Cape MEC of Local Government and Housing Whitey Jacobs yesterday (25/03/09) at the Protea Hotel in Sea Point.
The memorandum outlines recommendations from workshops involving backyarders, the term used to describe people who, due to a housing shortage, live in informal houses behind existing houses. The workshops were commissioned by the provincial housing department as part of developing a Draft Backyarder Response for the Cape Town Metropole.
Outlining the concerns of backyarder groups, Zondwa Butu, who has lived in a Gugulethu backyard for 15 years, said households could not see when and how their housing concerns would be addressed.
Cape Town has a housing waiting list estimated at 400 000, but Butu said the waiting lists did not function well, increasing conflict and frustration among backyarders and informal settlement residents.
Cooperation between the City of Cape Town and the Western Cape Department of Local Government and Housing needed to be improved when it came to the waiting list and housing plans.
“Backyarders often experience frustrations because they are sent from pillar to post. No one in government wants to take responsibility for assisting backyarders,” said Butu, reading from the memorandum.
Backyarders faced problems of evictions, health issues, access to basic services and fire and flooding.
But both the City of Cape Town and the provincial housing department revealed plans at the meeting to make land available for backyarders.
Herman Steyn, City of Cape Town New Settlement Manager, said the drafting of a housing allocation policy was in its final stages.
Steyn said the policy dealt with how to allocate new housing opportunities based on a ratio between informal settlement and backyard dwellers.
He said the policy made provision for backyarders to be included in all new housing projects.
He said the City had identified land along Lansdowne Road which would accommodate Nyanga backyarders, and land had been identified in Manenberg for backyarders in that area.
Local Government and Housing MEC Whitey Jacobs said his department has identified land in Drift Sands in Mfuleni outside of Cape Town.
Jacobs said although the land was deemed environmentally sensitive and investigations were taking place as to how it could be used for housing, it was hoped that 6,000 units would be built to benefit backyarders.
Provincial housing department deputy director general Mbulelo Tshangana said his department and the City of Cape Town acknowledged that there were “huge” problems in dealing with the housing waiting lists.
Since 1994, he said informal settlements had been given priority, leaving backyarders in poor conditions.
He said the current system created “negative unintended consequences” as people living in informal settlements in hazardous areas were prioritised for housing.
He said the development of a policy on backyarders would prioritise vulnerable groups. “It’s criminal to see a 65-year old woman staying in the backyard. It makes the whole housing waiting lists a mockery,” he said. — West Cape News