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Backyarder's a huge problem in Westlake

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Backyarder's a huge problem in Westlake
“There must be around 1300 people living in the backyards of homes in Westlake, which is a huge problem,” said James Mcgregor, a trustee and member of the management committee of the Westlake United Church Trust(WUCT).

According to Mr Mcgregor, the infrastructure of the residential development, which was a joint venture between John Rabie Property Developers and the government, caters for 2000 residents only and so the 1300 extra residents is quickly approaching double that  figure.

Mr Mcgregor said that things are reaching a tipping point with regard to basic services, pointing out that all these people need water, electricity, ablution facilities, health facilities and waste removal. Removal of waste is a big problem with rubbish being dumped on the streets and in the water systems, causing pollution, health problems and an eye sore; not to mention a big stink. 

“In the beginning of this project I said that a policy about backyarders needed to be developed and implemented right from the word go,” Mr Mcgregor said, “but as yet there is no policy governing this practice of renting pieces of ones yard to tenants.”

Mr Mcgregor also pointed out that the problem of overcrowding was in part to be blamed on the poor implementation of the housing policy governing the allocation of the RDP houses. “Houses were given to people who could not afford to pay for them, either because they did not have jobs or were unable to work.  So they could not pay for the basic services of water, electricity and waste removal,” Mr Mcgregor said, adding that many of those people sold their homes, spent the money and are now one of the backyarders, are back living in the bush or are renting out shacks on their property to make a living from.

According to a statement by the Executive Mayor of Cape Town, Alderman Patricia De Lille, the City of Cape Town is well aware of the problem and is doing their best to address the situation, including the rollout of a pilot project to provide backyard households in Council-owned properties with basic services like electricity, water and refuse collection.

The pilot project is not meant as a long term solution but just as a temporary measure while the City tries to meet the high demand of people waiting to get a house in line with the City’s Housing Database and Housing Allocation Policy.

“We have fitted 189 prepaid electricity meters enabling these households in Factreton to access and manage their consumption of electricity and water. In addition, we have built 83 enclosed precast toilets connected to the main sewer system next to their structures, including a standpipe for fresh water supply, and supplied a further 135 refuse bins,” Ms De Lille said, adding that they are hoping to emulate the project in other parts of the city, so that more people would be able to have access to the City’s indigent grant of 200 litres of free water a day and the 50 kilowatt hours of free electricity per month.

However, while the City tries to fulfill their promises of building a more “Caring City,” residents of the Westlake community are up in arms about what they are saying is corruption. 

“When we, the people of the bush, were first told about the RDP housing project here in Westlake, we were told that 750 houses would be built for us to stay in,” said Patrick Heyns, who is a member on the board of the Westlake Residents Association. “But when we counted, only 500 houses were built. Where are the other 250 houses and what happened to the land that was allocated for those houses to be built on?” he asked

According to Mr Heyns, many of those people staying in the backyards of residents of Westlake were meant to get houses but never did and the issue with the large number of backyarders was just the end result.

In response to Mr Heyns’ claims, Councilor Tandeka Gqada, Mayoral Committee Member for Human Settlement, said that according to the Land Availability Agreement that was signed for the Westlake development, the developer, John Rabie, had to provide housing for all the registered households who had previously lived in the informal settlement as well as those residents, who had leases with the Department of Public Works, staying in the brick houses. 

“The then South Peninsula Municipality(SPM) undertook a survey of the main families staying in the area and drew up a list of those people eligible for the housing grant and then those candidates who qualified were given a house,” Ms Gqada said, adding that approved specifications for the houses included semi-detached and free standing houses.

John Rabie Property Developers, who were not available for comment, also sold a parcel of the land to Constantia Uitsig and Klein Constantia wine farms. Klein Constantia built houses on these plots for their workers but Constantia Uitsig recently sold their parcel of land to a private developer, Nieuwe Steenberg Co, who have built six inclusionary homes on the plot.

Although Nieuwe Steenberg Co have said that these houses would increase the value of the properties in the area, Mr Mcgregor said that it might have been better to built 20 RDP houses as opposed to the six middle-class homes. Notwithstanding that assertion, Mr Mcgregor said, “The overcrowding and social ills like crime and drug addiction associated with overcrowding will only get worse unless a policy is drawn up to govern this trend of backyarders.” 

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