A few years ago, I was renting a house with stunning views in a lovely part of the city.
Five years later, and I was still paying the same rental as I did in the first month. It was a very comfortable situation, because at no point did it look like the owner was going to want more rent.
I only really thought about it years later when the interests rates were all over the place and my new bond could easily fluctuate by R1 000 from one month to the next.
I missed the days of paying rent that always stayed the same, no matter what!
I’m telling you this because I’ve been thinking about the families that are being forced to move out of their homes in Bromwell Street, Woodstock.
Some have been living there for decades. The entire thing has divided those who advocate for security of tenure against those who support gentrification, which seems to be happening just about all over the CBD these days.
This is when old parts of the city suddenly get new life, usually from the artsy types looking for cheap apartments and offices. They then make the place so damn attractive that others also want in on the action.
And that’s when the owners of these old buildings realise what a goldmine they have on their hands.
It has been happening in the Bo-Kaap, Observatory, parts of Salt River and Woodstock; in fact anywhere that is rundown, but relatively close and accessible.
The argument with security of tenure is that tenants have usually been staying in these dilapidated buildings for generations and their rent is what probably helped the owners to repay the bond on the building, after which it became passive income for them.
Like in my case, there was probably no need for more money, as the property has been paid off.
That’s until their heirs are made aware of the possible windfall. In the case of Bromwell Street, a building that was probably worth a few hundred thousand rands a few years ago, is now worth millions.
Security of tenure is a moral argument against a tried and tested capitalist practice, so it’s unlikely to get anywhere. People tend to look down on gentrification, but being part of a cycle of renewal and regeneration, I believe it is an essential part of any city’s survival.
But that doesn’t mean I support people being thrown out of the only home they’ve ever known, and for which they probably pay very little.
I think whenever we are faced with something like this, residents must be accommodated in the new building that’s being planned.
In this case, it’s a “middle income” apartment block, with rental on each flat going for between R5 000 and R9 000.
I would suggest to future landlords who suddenly come into land occupied by renting tenants, don’t be in a hurry to evict them.
Make them part of your new business model, either as employees whose loyalty is virtually guaranteed now, or as tenants in the new apartments you’re erecting.
Charge them the same that they have always paid and give them more than enough time to relocate, or come by the means to afford the new rent.
Yes, I know I’m over-simplifying the whole thing, but the point is, these mense should matter more than the profits you stand to make.
This thinking is something called Conscious Business — a movement of capitalists who understand that you can no longer chase the bottom line at the expense of society, the environment and humanity.
Gentrification as a conscious business could be a beautiful thing for the city, the tenants and landlords.