About 351 families in rapidly gentrifying Newtown in central Johannesburg face an uncertain future because a government housing body wants to evict them from their homes.
The National Housing Finance Corporation (NHFC) has taken on the Newtown Housing Co-operative in a bitter high court battle that could lead to residents being evicted from their houses to create space for a private developer.
The Newtown residents said that in 2000 an organisation called Cope Housing Association provided them with units in a low-cost housing development. Each household made a payment of R2500 and would then pay R750 to R950 a month for five years before acquiring titles to their flats.
Cope Housing fell under the Social Housing Foundation, which is accountable to the provincial or national housing department. The foundation creates social housing institutions and develops housing for low- to moderate-income families.
All the beneficiaries in Newtown earned less than R3000 a month.
But Cope went insolvent and the NHFC paid its debts and took over its projects before residents were about to get their title deeds in 2005.
Now NHFC wants to evict the residents and sell the block to a private buyer to cover Cope's R14million debt.
Cope Housing is being investigated after 69 residents were evicted.
Mongezi Mnyani, the department of housing's chief operations officer, said: "The possible liquidation would compromise gains made in Gauteng's cooperative tenure model and is not fair to the majority of the law abiding residents."
He said his department "has been and will exert its influence in trying to salvage the Newtown Housing Co-operative".