FINANCIALLY-SQUEZZED Gweru residents have begun migrating from the northern parts of the city to densely-populated suburbs, where rentals are cheaper, while others are relocating to rural areas as most landlords have pegged rentals in hard currency following the recent reintroduction of the multi-currency system.
The 21-day lockdown to prevent the spread of coronavirus has also dealt a heavy blow to residents’ income as most survived from hand to mouth in the informal sector.
Gweru Urban MP Brian Dube yesterday confirmed the development.
“The economic crisis is hard hitting people in Gweru. I have received numerous calls for intervention but it is difficult, as it generally falls outside my primary mandate to deal with landlords and tenants. I have in some instances just mediated. The main challenge is that landlords are now charging tenants in US$ for rentals. The people are earning local currency and the incomes have been stagnant since last year,” Dube said.
“Landlords insist that if tenants are to pay in local currency, it will be at the prevailing black market rate. On average, our people are earning between $800 and $2 000, which translates to between US$20 and US$50 at the black market rate.”
“Landlords in medium to low-density areas, such as Northlea, Nashville, Ivene, Lundi Park, South Downs, South View, Athlone, Riverside, Harben Park, Daylesford, Ridgemont are demanding rentals ranging from US$60 to US$250. This is completely out of reach for the majority of the working and middle-class earners.
“This has forced the middle-class and upper working class to downgrade and opt to go to Ascot, Mtapa, Mambo, Clifton Park, Woodlands and Mkoba. This movement is not without serious consequences as it is also pushing out the low-income earners. Landlords in high-density areas are now also charging rentals in US$ ranging from US$20-US$100. This is beyond the reach of the low and middle-income earners,” said Dube.
He revealed that some residents were settling in places with squalid conditions to cut on living expenses while others were relocating to rural areas to settle there permanently.
“A majority of low-income earners are now moving out of their current rented houses and renting incomplete houses without running water or electricity, mainly in parts of Woodlands, Hertfordshire and Mutausi Park. Some of our people have also given up on urban life and left town and gone to rural areas as they can’t break even. Life is becoming more unbearable day by day. This has caused serious disruption in life patterns as children are shifted from one place to another and those schoolgoing have to make abrupt transfers or have to bear with traveling long distances to school,” Dube said.
Cornelia Selipiwe, the Gweru Residents and Ratepayers’ Association director blamed government for the dire situation.
“As residents we are in a fix, we have nowhere to go, our greatest challenge has been inconsistent policies on the part of our government. Redollarising is good, but people are still earning bond. There is mismatch in terms of what people are earning and what they have to spend, disposable income is scarce,” he said.
“With council bills and basic food prices skyrocketing, the buck stops with the resident. Paying rentals in US dollars is a serious burden to residents since they have to buy the US dollars at the black market where the dollar is very expensive”.
“Gweru city is one of the unfortunate cities because we don’t have real economic activities besides vending, something has to be done,” he said.
However, Midlands Provincial Affairs minister Larry Mavima, the said the unscrupulous landlords must be stopped.
“Yes, I have received information to the effect that landlords are charging exorbitant rentals in US$ and that is unfortunate, especially during this period of time when we are under lockdown and people’s incomes in most cases are depressed and or have been wiped out especially for those that are self-employed,” Mavima said.
“I would like to appeal to all landlords to have a kind and good heart and to maintain their rentals at what they were at prior to lockdown and payable in local currency. Nothing has happened that warrants an increase in rentals and further conversion of the same to be now payable in US$.”
Mavima added: “I can only appeal to the various landlords and not to take advantage of the present situation to make unreasonable profits. I realize that payments for services and goods can now be made using free funds, but that is not a license to gouge citizens out of their hard-earned money especially under a lockdown environment.”