The scramble for a home
The brutal reality that now faces Knysna is that, although official statistics have still not been released, many people who lost their homes were tenants and did not have any insurance.
Where does one find an affordable place to rent after the fires that ravaged the town more than a month ago completely destroyed the structure you used to call home?
What do you do when your insurance doesn’t provide you with the means to rent another house?
These are the questions that Sheldon King and his family, like many others directly affected by the disaster, have to now ask since that fateful Wednesday evening, June 7.
According to King, he realised he lost his home in Westford Bridge in the early hours of Thursday morning when his father André King accompanied him there.
The King family had moved into this home on June 1.
“We closed the coffee shop at about 10:00 that Wednesday morning as we heard flames were approaching our neighbourhood and we had two dogs at home. We weren’t able to get through though as the White Bridge was closed at that time. At about 14:00 my wife Jana, who works for the Knysna police, contacted a colleague who was busy checking homes in the same area to see if they could save the dogs. At that point they found our boerboel Sheila, and the house was still standing. Our border collie Blue was nowhere to be found,” said King.
King further told the tale of how, at around 18:00 that evening, they received news that their home was still untouched, but that Blue was still missing. All the while he was moving with family and friends from one area to another as suburbs and the CBD were being evacuated.
“When my father and I eventually got to the house early Thursday morning, with him shining the car’s lights onto the house so that we could see, I got out of the car and just cried. My wife and two sons still haven’t been back there,” he said.
A moment of joy cameame two days later though, when Blue showed up at the shell of a home he used to know. “He had ad a slight injury to his paw, but besides that he was just blackened with ash and soot,” said King.
It was from that dayy that King and his family have been in search of a new place to call home.
“Looking for an available, affordable, child and pet-friendly home with the rental market already in shambles was always difficult before the fires, and we took the place [the now burnt house] immediately when it came up after weeks of looking. After the fires, the situation hasn’t improved at all. Prices are more or less the same, but the availability and finding a child and pet friendly home has become a bigger issue,” said King.
He said this was the family’s most pressing issue. “We have received awesome donations since, and have almost replaced all the items we need most – food and clothing from distribution centres and family, Gift of the Givers, Daniela Dotan from Ningmo Foods. The community in general has been wonderful. The issue remained finding a suitable home,” said King.
While sleeping on a “Christmas bed” for the first two weeks of their search, after which the King family moved back to the house they occupied before moving to Westford Bridge, they tried every possible route to find a new home.
“Two-bedroom homes were going for around R9 000 per month, while three-bedroom places ranged from R15 000 to R25 000 a month. We started thinking that perhaps we should look for something better in Sedgefield or Harkerville,” said King.
He said they used the internet, five different estate agents, and “friends who knew people who knew people” to search for a new home.
SEARCH FINALLY OVER
At the time of going to print, King informed the Knysna-Plett Herald that he had found a suitable place to rent in Hunters Home. The search took them almost six weeks. He reiterated the problem: “Our biggest problem was finding a place that would allow children and pets, which is extremely scarce. Does this town only want older retired people living in Knysna, people who wouldn’t contribute anything to the working class? What about children and animals?
King said they were “very fortunate” to find the place and sympathised with what other people are still going through.
As it was, he said, the place they have now rented came up via word-of-mouth and they immediately snapped it up, counting themselves very lucky to have found something. Even though it is more expensive than they would like, he said it is manageable because they are subletting a part of it.
Ed note: The Knysna-Plett Herald has attempted to find out if rentals have soared since the fires. While there are some indications that prices may have gone up, what is apparent is that there is an acute shortage of rentals under R10 000 a month suitable for families with animals and/or children.
This appears to be the phenomenon in both Knysna and Plettenberg Bay.
We ask those who cannot find rentals to email firstname.lastname@example.org to briefly share their stories.
How many people were not insured and have nowhere to live is also an issue that has again been brought to the Knysna municipality’s attention.
See a follow-up in weeks to come.
Sheldon King’s home in Westford Bridge after the Knysna disaster.
Sheldon King’s home in Westford Bridge before the Knysna disaster.
The family dog Blue returned two days after the inferno.