City of Harare (CoH) has changed its housing delivery policy after illegal housing sprouted up across the city over the past five years. The new system, aimed at giving council more control over allocation of land, came too late for CoH however, as their recent campaign of demolitions landed them a heavy blow in court.
Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) sued CoH on behalf of demolition victims from Arlington Estate who had their homes bulldozed last month. High court judge Justice Priscilla Chigumba described the lack of procedure in conducting the demolitions as a disgrace. “Under no circumstances are government departments at liberty to unilaterally and arbitrarily demolish any structures in the absence of a court order authorizing them to do so, whether the structures were built without approval of building plans, or layout plans or without complying with any other legal requirement,” reads part of the judgement.
This judgement, coupled with council’s new policy will hopefully bring a halt to the devastating demolitions. According to Fiona Iliff, one of the ZLHR lawyers on the Arlington case, “the authorities will be required to pay significant damages to victims in the event that unlawful demolitions continue.”
Council has relied in the past on co-operatives and private land developers to provide housing. However, under the new policy, council will take over almost completely. Council will even play a part in the management of financial contributions by existing co-operative members.
“It is (now) the responsibility of the Director of Housing and Community Services to allocate residential accommodation in an efficient, equitable, and transparent manner to housing applicants registered on the city’s housing waiting list,” reads the new housing policy’s preamble.
In accordance with the new housing policy, Council spokesperson Michael Chideme revealed that council has already begun servicing land for sale to home-seekers.
“We have already begun servicing new residential stands as part of our mission to provide decent and affordable housing to residents. Our first project involves 234 stands on a piece of land bounded by the neighbourhood of St Martins, Airport Road and the Catholic University,” said Chideme.
Some residents have welcomed these changes. Tsungi Zenda (36) from Budiriro says this overhaul has the potential to bring sanity to council’s housing policy that had become disorganised over the years.
“It is disturbing to note that the new housing policy is only coming out in the wake of the on-going demolitions of hundreds of houses that were deemed to have been built illegally after the fact,” said Zenda.
But other residents feel that these policy changes are insufficient to address the damage done. In a statement, the Harare Residents Trust (HRT) said that residents were expecting council to devies a policy ensuring that the perpetrators of illegal land allocations are brought to book before demolitions take place.
“What we want to hear as residents is are we going to be compensated – for instance, in areas where houses were demolished without court orders such as at the Arlington Estate? There is need for justifications on these matters. The council cannot punish one side whilst the engineers who connected water and the planners who passed plans go scot free,” reads part of HRT’s statement.
HRT also says that residents were not satisfied that the finances meant for housing development will be properly managed by council asstated in the housing policy review. “From the HRT’s point of view, the city council has continuously failed to handle public funds. In many instances money has been diverted to other purposes.”
Image: One of many homes demolished by Council in Harare