Johannesburg’s 460 000 housing backlog opens illicit doors for scammers

Mpho Phalatse. (Photo: Melinda Stuurman)

Mpho Phalatse. (Photo: Melinda Stuurman)
  • Johannesburg Mayor Mpho Phalatse has roped in the Hawks and the SAPS to help halt a crime syndicate of housing scammers. 
  • Phalatse said on Thursday that victims of public housing scammers were being asked to pay between R3 000 and R20 000 to speed up their housing applications. 
  • Only two people have been arrested so far, while suspicion is high that some Johannesburg housing officials may be assisting the criminals. 

Johannesburg Mayor Mpho Phalatse has raised the alarm at a rise in housing scams reported by citizens who have fallen victim to apparent scams in their desperate attempt to secure RDP houses.

The City of Johannesburg’s crime and fraud unit has seen an increase in cases reported by victims who have been asked to pay between R3 000 and R20 000 to “speed up” the processes of securing RDP houses.

Phalatse said her office was concerned as scammers had grown emboldened by using the faces of government officials on social media to gain people’s trust.

“The Joburg department of human settlements has been inundated with walk-ins and calls from victims who have lost their hard-earned money to scammers using different fake social media accounts which constantly use the MMC’s face and the department’s name to offer credibility to their fraudulent endeavours. These fraudsters have even registered cellphone numbers in the MMC’s name, which they use to extort money from vulnerable residents,” Phalatse said.

She said it was suspected that multiple syndicates were involved in the schemes, which date back to 2021.

There were suspicions that scammers were also being provided with people’s valuable information by Johannesburg housing department insiders.

Phalatse said the SAPS and Hawks had been asked to assist in wrapping up investigations alongside the city’s forensic and corruption unit.

So far, two people linked to the housing scam have been arrested.

READ | OPINION: Mpho Phalatse: Political oversight is a responsibility. It is not interference

“We are very concerned about government officials being involved in the scams, but the city’s forensic unit is investigating. It is not happening in the housing department only. We have picked this up in the transport department as well. We have had some JMPD officials suspended,” Phalatse said on Thursday.

“If you have accomplices on the inside with the government, then you will always outsmart the system,” she added.

The city has a housing backlog of 460 000, the mayor said.

She added that the city has struggled to decrease this backlog because it relies heavily on funding from the provincial and national governments.

“We have a few housing projects in line, but we have to get the funding in some areas,” she said.

The acting head of the city’s forensic unit, Lizzie Ramogale, said her unit was inundated with complaints about the illegal sale of land in parts of Johannesburg.

The city’s MMC of housing Mlungisi Mabaso said the city is working on clearing the city’s housing backlog issues.

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