Zonnebloem: Cape Town’s latest gentrification hotspot
(This article was published on 29 May 2016 in the Weekend Argus, a weekly newspaper published by Independent Media in Cape Town, Western Cape province.)
Written by Yazeed Kamaldien
Zonnebloem neighbourhood’s working class residents in Springfield Terrace flats feel threatened, claiming estate agents are pushing a new wave of gentrification on central Cape Town’s doorstep.
An estate agent working in the area has confirmed buyers are interested, with an offer even coming through from a developer who wanted to buy up one of the nine standing blocks.
For some Zonnebloem residents, the current wave of gentrification feels much like apartheid era forced removals from District Six, just up the road from their homes.
Mary Wentzel, who was born in District Six almost 60 years ago, was forcibly removed from the area when she was a child.
Twenty-nine years ago Wentzel bought a flat in Zonnebloem. Now she feels like estate agents and property developers are pressuring them to move and make way for wealthier property owners looking to buy up spaces near the city.
“A few weeks ago an estate phoned and asked if I wanted to sell my house. I said no the rand is not good. And he said he could pay me in dollars,” says Wentzel.
“Estate agents were around here asking people if they want to sell. One agent came to my house and asked if I wanted to sell. I said no. Then he asked me who else he could go to. I said I don’t know.”
Wentzel says it was “mostly foreigners already bought apartments and they rent it out”.
And she is aware of gentrification’s effect in other predominantly working class coloured areas near the city: Bo Kaap, Salt River and lower Woodstock.
“I heard about what happened in Bo Kaap. Rich people are going to buy these houses and then how much will our children have to pay if they want the houses back?” asks Wentzel.
“This area is for our people. District Six was for our people. But people are unemployed and they will jump to sell. They are looking for money. But R1m is not a lot of money.
“I will never go out of here or sell this house. I’m used to living close to town. It will be a huge inconvenience to move. I will stay here until I die.”
Another resident, Berenice Rasdien, says she wants to sell her apartment but will do so only when she finds an alternative ground floor replacement in the area.
“I’ve got arthritis in both my knees and I cannot do the stairs anymore. That’s the only reason I’m selling. But I don’t want to move out of my area. I will only sell if I can buy another place in Springfield Terrace,” she says.
Rasdien’s sale boards went up after an estate agent came to their area. She says since the start of this year four of her neighbour’s sold and moved out.
Rasdien points out that new buyers are predominantly wealthier and white.
“People do sell a lot because buyers are investing in the area. Opposite the road from me a flat was sold. Semi-detached houses have also been sold. It’s all in this year,” she says.
“A German bought a flat and three other properties were also bought by white people. It’s mostly foreigners who are buying and they rent it out.”
Rasdien says quite a few neighbours – including herself – are resisting though to leave the area.
“Agents are coming to us. They are forever here. They are very visible in our area. They shop for properties,” she says.
“I don’t see the reason why people should sell. They should stay in the city. It’s nice. I love my neighbours.
“We can still look out for each other. And we still walk to town and Woodstock.”
Jarette Petzer, branch manager Beyers Realty Group in Woodstock, says there Springfield Terrace interests buyers “because of its close proximity to the city” and “stock is limited”.
Beyers has a property for sale in the area and also handles a R9 000 rental.
“There’s a huge demand for certain parts of Zonnebloem, like the Springfield Terrace and Justice Walk. There is money to be made. Buyers are interested,” says Petzer.
Beyers is selling properties worth millions in focus areas, namely Woodstock, Salt River and Observatory “which is developing faster” than Zonnebloem, says Petzer.
“The moment we get some decent traction we will push harder in that area (Zonnebloem),” he adds.
Petzer believes property price climbs in even lower Woodstock – a traditionally coloured working class part of the city – is impacting along the corridor close to central Cape Town.
“Woodstock is by far getting the most attention now. Prices have pushed up a lot. We have seen a 40% rise in property prices,” says Petzer.
“It is getting a lot of attention because it looks European. It’s near the city and has views of the habour. Up to 80% of buyers are young professionals and predominantly Afrikaners.
“We have also seen a lot of German and Italian interest. They are all looking for a good deal to break into the market.”
Petzer adds: “As the money rolls in and places are painted, the value is lifting.”
He acknowledges the impact this has on locals.
“We are definitely seeing a trend. A byproduct of a successful property market is that rates go up. That has an adverse effect on people on the breadline. We are seeing a more predominant middle class moving into the area.”
Asa Rajap, admin manager at Beyers, believes residents in working class areas should sell their properties to “step up” and settle in the suburbs, further away from the city centre.
“They need to think about making money. You have to move on. You may have to get up at 6am to get to town in the morning. But at least you will live in a nice area,” says Rajap.
She says Springfield Terrace residents have reacted negatively though to the agent’s efforts to seek properties for sale.
“When we sent an agent to door-to-door a lot of the community was unhappy. There were comments about ‘Don’t being the white people in here’,” says Rajap.
“We have a lot of investors interested in the area but the owners don’t want to sell. We can sell their apartment and find them a house in a nice suburb. We are there to get you out of the hole and make your life better.”
For almost three decades Faiq Rabin has owned a two-bedroom flat in one of the nine apartment blocks that comprise Springfield Terrace.
It is within walking distance from central Cape Town, making it prime property for developers seeking to gain ground where housing stock and land is limited.
Rabin was born in District Six from where he was evicted under apartheid’s segregationist law, the Group Areas Act.
Years later when Springfield Terrace apartments were built he could move back to the area he once called home.
“I am from central Cape Town and always wanted to live here. Twenty-three years ago I bought a flat here. This is where we want to be and where we want to die. This is our place,” says Rabin.
“The only thing is that it’s becoming expensive to stay here. Foreigners are buying in our area and our municipal accounts are going up.
“These places were built for the lower income group. Now 20 years down the line it doesn’t work that way. With the high rates, we can’t survive.”
Rabin adds: “You can imagine a low-income person whose expenses became double, how does he manage? I am concerned that our people can’t stay here anymore. It won’t be long before we will be moved out.
“With the Group Areas Act they (apartheid government) chucked us out. With this, people don’t realise what is happening. Where will we stay if we can’t afford to live in our houses? We are locals and we can’t afford to stay here.”
Rabin is chairman of a body corporate that manages two of the Springfield Terrace blocks. He says estate agents have approached various flat owners about selling their properties.
“We are getting notices in our letterboxes all the time asking if we are interested to sell. I’m from here and my roots are here. I was not interested to buy to resell when I came to live here.
“These were starter homes when we bought it. If we sell now, we won’t be able to buy another place near the city. We are also offered very little”
Rabin says news buyers are “people who normally don’t stay here”.
“We bought to stay here because of the community. People who are buying here now are doing it for financial gains,” he says.
“They are renting it out, with the knowledge that this is going to be valuable properties. It has a bad affect on the blocks if an owner doesn’t stay here. They have no interest in the flat,” says Rabin.
“Before we had body corporate meetings and all the owners were present. Now owners are not at meetings and don’t pay their levies on time.
“They are not interested in coming to meetings, painting the block or working with the body corporate.”
Rabin says the area’s demographic is changing and will likely no longer remain a predominantly working class coloured.
“There are some white people coming in here to live. But most white people who buy here don’t stay here. They are just buying as a business venture. The area will be upgraded. We know the government will do that,” says Rabin.
“We also had people who were interested in purchasing a whole block. Most of the units have been sold already in another block.
“One of the owners is a French guy and I manage the unit for him. I collect the rental for him. They really don’t have an interest in living here. It’s a monetary thing. They are investing and one day they plan to sell it for more.”
Rabin says rental at Springfield Terrace for a two-bedroom flat can go up to R10 000.
“Our people don’t realise what is happening to them. People don’t see what’s coming their way. People from outside are buying up our area. And it is already three quarters of the way in our area,” adds Rabin.
“If you go to Woodstock it’s all coffee shops. We can’t afford coffee shops. So for who are they building these coffee shops?
“This is a growing concern. At the end of they day they are moving in the higher income group and the lower income group are being moved out. We invested here but now when we are older we can’t stay here.
“If you look around in our areas, people are buying old buildings and putting parking bays underneath and building up.
“They build without consultation of our people. We are getting nothing out of it when people come in here.”