Fighting City for accessible flat

Trudy Wichman suffered three strokes in 2012 and spends her days on her couch in her fourth-floor flat with her daughter, Anneliese Wichman.

The daughter of a wheelchair-bound Hangberg woman is battling with the City of Cape Town to get her mom a ground-floor council flat.

Trudy Wichman, 59, had three strokes seven years ago and can’t walk or speak. Her daughter, Anneliese Wichman, has left her job and moved in with her mother to care for her.

Ms Wichman has lived in her fourth-floor flat in Strandloper Hof for the past 30 years, but is now “being kept a prisoner in her own house,” says Anneliese.

“My mom can’t walk or talk she doesn’t know what it feels like to sit outside when the sun is shining or have the wind blow through her face anymore. I’m here 24/7 for my mother. I help her to get dressed in the morning; I feed her, and if there’s a doctor’s appointment, then I need to find people to help us because we need four people to carry her down in the wheelchair.

It is a daily struggle, and we’ve missed so many doctor’s appointments because we can’t get out of the flat,” she said.

In 2013, the family issued the City with letters from doctors, physiotherapists and social workers, requesting a move to the ground-floor but with no luck.

It is no secret that housing has been an issue in Hangberg for some time, with violent protests breaking out in 2010 when residents clashed with police following a land grab near Hangklip.

Phase 2 of a housing project is under way with the budget approved and consultants appointed, but Anneliese isn’t holding her breath that it will offer a solution.

“These are council houses, and you have to put your name onto a waiting list before you get one. Here is such a lot of people living in Hout Bay and one of the biggest struggles is housing. The City said they have approved my mother’s ground-floor flat in 2013 but still no availability has come up.

They told us they don’t have available units for us, but I told them about an available ground-floor unit that’s in the same block where I’m living in, and the people are living there illegally.

I’ve put my name on the waiting list for the completion of phase 2, and there’s nothing I can do but wait, so why can’t others do that as well… it’s not right to just move into a flat illegally because there’s procedures to follow,” she said.

Anneliese said ward councillor Roberto Quintas had been helpful but the employees in the housing department were dragging their feet.

She also requested a flat swap with tenants on the ground floor, but Mr Quintas said that was not possible as it would just create more confusion.

“Anneliese approached me towards the end of last year about her mother’s challenges to get in and out of their home and requested to be moved to the ground floor,” Mr Quintas said. “I immediately enquired with our housing department about what units were available or potentially moving other tenants with their consent of course.

What we found was that there are no empty flats available, and Annaliese also alerted me that some ground-floor units had illegal tenants. We took a look into it, because the policy is quite specific, and found that some of these tenants are legal, while others are living illegally, but we can’t just go there and ask them to leave the premises.

We have to follow the legal processes our housing department is looking into it and trying to assess the way forward because we are unable to do a flat swap either. There’s no policy or procedure that allows for a flat swap to happen and it could also complicate things with the occupants that are under investigation,” he said.