Sanddrift families evicted

Athina May

Sanddrift residents have rallied around a mother of two who was evicted last week from her home in the low-income housing estate, saying they fear she won’t be the last, as the state has threatened them with a similar fate if they refuse to sign new leases demanding much higher rent.

Lee-Ann Baxter was evicted on Tuesday May 10. Her furniture was piled up against a wall in her neighbour’s backyard when Tabletalk caught up with her and about 15 other residents, who said they also feared losing their homes.

They claimed the state-owned homes were for the elderly, disabled and those earning below R3 500 and that they had had an open lease in the past allowing them to pay whatever they could afford for rent, up to 10 percent of their income, if they had any.

Now, they said, the provincial Department of Human Settlements wanted to change that and was threatening to evict them if they did not sign new leases introduced in September last year.

“They’re threatening us to sign the lease or else we’ll be evicted. When we moved in here they said this place was for the elderly, disabled and those who earned below R3 500,” said June Wynand, who has drawn up a petition to oppose the new leases and is also trying to get Ms Baxter back into her home.

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“The new lease says we must earn R3 500 to stay here. When did the rules change?”

Ms Wynand said many of the residents had been living in the area for more than 20 years. The new leases, she said, offered little security.

“Suddenly, last year, we heard rumours that the place is sold to foreign investors, so when they came with this new lease we didn’t want to sign the lease… Some people got six-month leases and others got three-year leases, and what’s going to happen after six months? I don’t believe we must back down,” said Ms Wynand.

The residents of Sanddrift marched on Tuesday May 10, together with residents from Naruna Estate in Plumstead, Rugby, and De Waal Drive, through the City and presented the Department of Human Settlements with a memorandum demanding the new leases be scrapped.

However, the Department of Human Settlements’ head of communications, Nathan Adriaanse, said it was unaware of any outcry from Sanddrift residents about the new leases.

Whereas rental units had initially accommodated those earning less than R3 500, Ms Adriaanse said tenants were now “advised that all new applicants, in order to qualify for this rental accommodation, must earn between R3 500 and R15 000, and this is in terms of our rental policy and is in line with the national policy called Finance Linked Individual Subsidy Programme (FLISP)” .

He said the leases had been changed because the department had had three different lease agreements with tenants and had not complied with the Rental Housing Act.

Unemployed tenants had been given a six-month lease as well as an opportunity to take the option of home ownership in Pelican Park. Those who earned an income, including pensioners, had been given a renewable three-year lease.

However Ms Wynand said those who had tried to apply for their own homes in Pelican Park had been turned down, as they didn’t qualify: applicants must earn below R3 500 a month and not have owned property before.

There have been several evictions in the housing estate since 2007, but the department does not appear to be in a rush to find new tenants with at least 11 units, including Ms Baxter’s, now standing empty.

When resident Sharon Groenewald, 58, saw contractors working on one of them, she asked what they were doing.

She believes that what they told her is the real reason the new leases were issued: residents are being given the boot so that state employees can move in.

“I was told that government officials were going to move into these houses, and the contractors told me that someone from the department was coming to move here next door to me.

“I kept my lips closed for so long, for too long, I knew it a long time ago but waited until I got confirmation,” said Ms Groenewald, who was given a six-month lease. She has lived in Sanddrift for 22 years and cares for her daughter who suffered a stroke.

While the residents are concerned about their own possible evictions further down the line, at the moment they’re standing together to try to get Ms Baxter back into her home, as they believe her eviction is illegal.

“Legally, you are not allowed to evict a mother and her children from their home. Lee-Ann started a new job yesterday (May 10) and wasn’t home when her belongings were removed and put outside.

“We all know Lee-Ann, her grandmother was staying here, and she stayed on to look after her grandmother. Her grandmother passed on and she stayed on,” said Ms Wynand.

“Suddenly she was told that she has three months to leave.” She added that Ms Baxter’s 10-year-old daughter had a genetic disorder aggravated by stress.

“She came home from school to no home.” said Ms Wynand.

However, Mr Adriaanse said Ms Baxter had been evicted as she had occupied the home illegally, and a court had granted the department an eviction order after considering presentations by both parties.