Rental relief for tenants

Communicare has announced a special Covid-19 rental relief programme for tenants affected by the lockdown.

Social-housing agency Communicare is offering Covid-19 rental relief to its tenants.

In a statement, Anthea Houston, the non-profit company’s CEO, said all tenants who had lost a job or income during the national lockdown could apply for the relief.

“The Covid rental relief is specifically for tenants who have been affected financially by job or income loss due to the lockdown.”

Relief could take the form of rental deferment, rental reduction or use of the deposit, she said.

Communicare spokeswoman Michelle Matthee said tenants would have to have been in good standing since April 1 to qualify.

“Any tenant who was in arrears is still able to approach us to make payment arrangements to settle their arrears but will not be able to benefit from our special Covid rental relief programme.”

Each tenant’s circumstances would be reviewed to see what form of relief suited them, she said.

“Everyone’s situation is different, and we cannot use a blanket approach which may not be sustainable for everyone over the coming months.”

The value of each rent reduction would depend on each tenant’s financial circumstances.

“Some tenants may have one income earner in the household who has lost a job while others may have more. Some tenants may be in industries that will take very long to recover.”

Communicare tenant Gladys Hilberg said she had heard about the rental-relief programme by text message. Ms Hilberg, a senior who has lived at Reyger Court in Brooklyn for 12 years, said the text had said she “might qualify” if her account had been in good standing by the start of April.

“Give me a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’ answer but not a ‘might’,” Ms Hilberg said.

She complained that Communicare’s call centre offered little help. Callers were put on hold for a long time and issues were seldom resolved.

She questioned how the deposit option would work, saying the interest accrued on some long-term tenants’ deposits would be considerable.

Ms Matthee said the leases allowed for the deposit to be used when rent was owing.

“We will discuss how we use this with the tenant as it is one of the options that could help to relieve financial pressure on the tenant.”

Gail Gertze, also from Reyger Court, said she had notified Communicare that she would like to apply for relief, but communication was not the housing agency’s strong point.

“You call their call centre and you hang on for long periods of time.”

Ms Gertze said her account was up to date so she qualified for rental relief. As a single mother of two, she said the reprieve would be good, especially with both children being home. But said she couldn’t understand why tenants had to apply for rental relief.

“If you want to do something, just do it. Why must the tenants apply for it? Most of the tenants are old, and the application process will cause them more stress.”

Ms Houston said Communicare was going through a “tough time”, and all developments had ground to a halt.

“We are currently uncertain what the impact will be on the planned new housing developments we have in the pipeline.”

Construction of 314 new social-housing units, valued at R162.8 million started in November in Bothasig. Ms Matthee said Communicare was putting up R20m and the rest was financed through a combination of Communicare funds, commercial loans and government grants. 

“A loan of R33m has been raised from Mergence Infrastructure and Development Debt Fund, an impact fund managed by Mergence Investment Managers,” Ms Matthee said.