City ditches housing firm
THE eThekwini municipality is looking to “sever” its relationship with the developer Woodglaze Trading following a string of complaints against the company that has left the municipality feeling “vulnerable”.
A recent council agenda detailed several allegations against the company which included:
It was carrying out “land grabs”.
It was responsible for a loss of rates and revenue for the municipality (although the company has told the council it is willing to pay what is fair).
Allegations of shoddy workmanship.
Allegations of flouting town planning regulations, especially around approved plans and zoning issues.
There have also been numerous media reports detailing complaints against the company by residents who had occupied some of the homes the company built.
A council meeting recently recommended that a letter allowing Woodglaze Trading to undertake the development of various infill sites (development of land in urban space, usually vacant) in the city be revoked with immediate effect.
Woodglaze is, according to media reports, owned by Shireen Annamalay, the wife of developer Jay Singh whose company developed the Tongaat mall which collapsed a few years ago, resulting in the deaths of two people.
The municipality and Woodglaze were in a joint partnership, with the municipality providing the land for development.
The main focus was to assist mainly middle income earners with housing in the Phoenix and Newlands area.
Woodglaze builds complexes on various infill sites which are rented to first-time homeowners who earn between R3 500 and R7 000. After three years, an alleged verbal agreement states, renters have the option to buy.
The agenda tabled and approved by full council last month said: “There have been several allegations and legal challenges relating to the infill sites developed by Woodglaze in the city.
“These relate to sales, and determination of sale prices, transfers and the validity thereof, allocations, validity of contract and approvals, authorities for sale.”
The municipality said it had taken a long time to act against the company due to several issues, including litigation involving the company.
It said it faced a risk, as the developer was still constructing houses on municipal land.
The city was concerned at being held liable for any illegal activity carried out on that land.
There was also the loss of rates and the site rental, as Woodglaze had not paid rates and the site rental to the city in accordance with the agreement concluded with it, it said.
ANC councillor Mondli Mthembu, who leads the Human Settlement and Infrastructure Committee, said the main issue they had was that the company was not following council processes.
“They were given carte blanche by the former head of the housing unit to develop sites without following council processes.
“Some of their developments were not approved and therefore people could not apply for bonds because those houses were considered not to have been built legally.
“The municipality should be collecting rates and is losing out but we are trying to regularise that process.
“We have told them not to continue with any development,” he said.
DA councillor and exco member Heinz de Boer said there had been many issues with the company and the manner in which it operated.
“One of the allegations made against them is that they were grabbing every piece of land available and developing it. In some instances they were even grabbing children’s playlots.
“There were allegations that units were being sold, and people were buying as many as 10 units and renting them out at a much higher rate than should be, which was to the detriment of the community they were supposed to help,” said De Boer.
“The municipality is not happy and has resolved to cancel all the contracts,” he said.
The DA councillor in ward 49, Bradley Singh, said they had received numerous complaints about the project.
He said between 700 and 800 flats had been built so far.
“We want the people to get the houses but this should be a fair and clear process,” he said.
Attempts to reach officials from Woodglaze through the two cellphone numbers listed under the company were unsuccessful yesterday.
One number was answered by a woman who said she had never worked for the company and another rang unanswered.
An official said to be the spokesperson for the company accused The Mercury of lacking ethics.
When called yesterday, before hearing what the call was about, he said: “Have you no ethics calling me on a Sunday?
“I want you to learn ethics before I give you any comment. I hope this conversation is recorded.”
Asked whether he could put The Mercury in touch with directors of the company, he said, “I will not put you in touch with anyone until you learn ethics.
‘I want you to print that.”