By Chris Mahove

A PALTRY 27 out of 1 278 sitting tenants in council-rented houses in Dzivarasekwa 3 have taken up an offer by the Harare City Council to buy the properties on a rent-to-buy basis, a council official revealed Friday.

Addressing a meeting between the Combined Harare Residents Association (CHRA) and City of Harare officials at Dzivarasekwa Community Centre, district officer for the area, Shepherd Tonderai Mawire, said the low uptake of the houses was as a result of huge arrears which residents owed to council.

He said an assessment by the local authority had proved that old age, which resulted in incapacity to pay, had contributed to the low uptake.

“One of the conditions for one to buy the house from council was to clear their arrears. From 2013 when the offer was made to December 2018 when it closed, only 27 houses had been sold to sitting tenants,” he said.

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The district officer said most of the tenants were very old and of foreign origin, who were even struggling to make ends meet and could, therefore, hardly afford to buy the houses.

Council, he said, was looking at ways of helping those who had reached advanced age so they could retain ownership of the houses.

He said council had valued the houses, mostly in Dzivarasekwa 3, at $10 000 with discounts depending on the number of years one would have stayed at the house, with those who had lived there for 30 years and above getting a 50% discount.

Mawire said the offer had lapsed, adding they were now waiting for a council resolution on how they would proceed to sell the remaining houses.

However, it emerged during the meeting that what constituted the bulk of the arrears that most residents owed to council were charges for “illegal structures” which were seven times higher than normal council rentals.

As a result, residents’ representatives argued, most of the residents who otherwise would have qualified for the offer had been disenfranchised because of council’s dubious billing system.

“A lot of people were disenfranchised because of the improper billing by council. We are not saying people don’t have to pay, but we have problems with the quantum of some of the bills. You cannot have someone in a high-density area owing $13 000, especially considering that all debts were cleared in 2013,” said Hardlife Mudzingwa, project manager at Water Alliance.