In 2006, Portia Taueatsoala put her name down for a low-cost RDP house. She was living at her parents’ home in Seshego outside Polokwane in Limpopo, and felt it was time to find her own living space and assert her independence.
But after nine years on the waiting list, Taueatsoala had lost all hope of getting her own home.
Then she heard that tenants were being sought to occupy a newly built block of community flats in Seshego.
The 34-year-old mother of one, who works at a clothing retailer in Polokwane, put her name down, but didn’t have much hope of anything coming of it – that is, until she received a call informing her that her application for a low-rent, two-bedroom flat at the Seshego Community Residential Units had been approved.
“I remember we were told to come and get our appointment letters,” she says. “They also gave us banking details to pay in the initial deposit required. It was one of the happiest days of my life.”
The Seshego Community Residential Units was the first rental stock complex of its kind to be built in Limpopo. The complex was officially opened with much fanfare in June last year by Limpopo Premier Stan Mathabatha at an occasion also attended by deputy human settlements minister Zou Kota-Fredericks, Limpopo corporative governance and human settlements MEC Makoma Makhurupetje and other dignitaries.
The complex was built on the site of what used to be the Seshego men’s hostel. In 2007, the provincial government had pledged to renovate the old hostel, but this plan was abandoned in favour of building residential family units catering for the gap market – those earning too much to qualify for free housing from the government, but too little to qualify for home loans from banks.
A total of 189 units – 176 double-storey units, four catering for people with disabilities and nine free-standing ones – were built. The target market was people in the low-income bracket, whose combined family income did not exceed R3 500. The project was completed at a cost of R53 million.
The project was recognised nationally in 2014, with the province scooping the Ministerial Award at the annual Govan Mbeki Awards, which recognise excellence and innovation in the area of human settlements.
Taueatsoala moved into her two-bedroom flat with her nine-year-old daughter in January last year. She pays R800 a month for her flat, which also has a living room, kitchen, bathroom and a small garden.
Security is tight at the complex. There is a biometric fingerprint system to access the units and there are security guards around the clock.
Visitors have to be checked in and registered before they are fetched at the security checkpoint by the person they are visiting. The family-friendly complex also has paved walkways and a play area for children.
For Taueatsoala it is not only an affordable home, but also a sanctuary for her and her daughter.
“It’s a great and peaceful complex where you can raise kids without fear of your home being broken into or someone coming in to do your kids harm. We wish the government could build more complexes like this. We have no places to stay. They can help many people who don’t have houses,” she says.
Before construction was completed, the local municipality established the Polokwane Housing Association to manage its entire rental stock. The agency collects rent from tenants and in return provides security as well as continuous maintenance of the complex.
Tenants at the Seshego Community Residential Units, however, are not happy with the agency and its management of the complex.
They have written down a long list of things that need fixing, including the equipment in the children’s play area, leaking geysers, faulty electronic wiring and cracked ceilings. They are also unhappy about the lack of washing lines outside and fire extinguishers that are not in working order.
Taueatsoala is an active member of the housing committee, which has declared a dispute with the rental agency.
Unhappy tenants reported these issues and the alleged lack of proper maintenance to the municipality’s rental tribunal, which is tasked with adjudicating disputes between tenants and landlords.
After investigating, the rental tribunal sought a tribunal order in June, which compelled the rental agency to fix the identified defects and improve its maintenance standards in the complex. It was given 90 days to comply with the order. But the agency has complained of a lack of funds,
saying it does not have enough money to fully comply
with the court order.
Polokwane Housing Association (PHA) CEO Shimi Maimela said his agency and the municipality had inherited the complex from the provincial department of cooperative governance and human settlements.
He said they identified many of the defects that residents were complaining about in April 2015 and reported these to the department, which has failed to rectify them. These include faulty electrical wiring.
“The PHA attempted to do costing of the identified electrical defects, only to find that it is almost R300 000. These issues include faulty electrical cables, which never worked since the handover of the units,” he said.
On the maintenance backlog, Maimela said the PHA was not collecting enough money through rentals to meet the operational costs of managing the residential complex.
“It should be mentioned that revenue collection on the rentals does not match daily operations, which leaves the entity [with a] deficit every month.”
He said the municipal council had resolved to “consider the revision of rentals” since they did not cover all operational needs. Maimela said his agency was capable of running the complex, but could not do much about the defects it inherited.
“The PHA has sufficient capacity to manage the complex. Historical inherited problems are the ones that make it difficult in some instances to provide services,” he said.
Despite these niggling problems, Taueatsoala still marvels at the fact that she has a place she can call her own.
“I never thought I could afford to live in a place like this. I had resigned myself to staying at my parents’ house until I got allocated an RDP house. But after so many years, I was not sure about that any more.”