November 7, 2014, 9:07am
Hydraform's costly housing dream
REHOBOTH resident Leonard Venter is angry and disappointed after his dream of becoming a homeowner turned into an expensive nightmare.
Venter, Lee-Anne Visagie and Irene Africa are among more than 4 000 people from Rehoboth, Groot Aub, and Gobabis who flocked to the Hydraform Building Solutions offices early last year to register for houses.
They paid between N$250 and N$500 non-refundable registration fee each depending on the size of the house they had chosen. But until now, they have lost hope of owning a Hydraform house. Venter, however, managed to cancel the application but not the life insurance cover that was part of the deal.
The Rehoboth-based construction company attracted residents from all income groups when they introduced plans to construct lowcost one-bedroom houses for N$30 000 and four-bedrooms for less than N$100 000.
The company's managing director, Marius Kharigub, described the rush for houses after more than 4 000 had registered as: “Dit is malligheid (It's madness).”
Kharigub also co-owns Hydraform Building Solutions and Hydraform Interlocking Solutions. He said his companies construct low-cost housing by using a Hydraform interlocking block which cuts the use of cement to less than half the amount used in a conventional house.
In September he told The Namibian that he was negotiating with 44 local councils for land, but claimed later that there were few “technical things to iron out”.
Kharigub said Grootfontein was one of the town councils he was negotiating with, but the acting CEO of that town, Martin Liebenberg said Kharigub did not impress council early this year.
“He did not get any erven. It was the poorest presentation I've ever seen. There was nothing in terms of equipment,” said Liebenberg.
He said all serviced land in Grootfontein was for the mass housing initiative while other contractors are already building houses for private and corporate clients.
INSURANCE BUT NO HOUSE
Although cancelling the Hydraform application was easy, Venter is struggling to cancel the N$380 monthly insurance premium he says he was tricked into taking.
Venter said they were told that they had to take out life insurance so that if they missed an instalment, the insurance would pay. However, the life insurance agreement does not contain a clause for that.
“The requirements to register for a house were that you pay the registration fee and then take out a Swabou life insurance policy of N$175 to N$380 per month with Namibia Northern Insurance Brokers. They told us that we must just take out the insurance and start paying already even though there was no house,” Venter said.
Insurance broker Bernard Kortom, according to applicants, was based at the Hydraform offices in Rehoboth and as people came in to register for the homes, he would register them for insurance.
“I just want to understand one thing. If they said the life insurance was for the house, why am I still paying, yet there is no house? When I went to First National Bank to cancel, they told me that I cannot cancel it because it was opened as a group scheme and only the insurance people can help me,” Venter said.
He said when he informed Kortom, the latter became aggressive.
Visagie also said that ever since she paid her registration fee, took out the life insurance and started to pay the premiums, she has not heard of any developments regarding her new house.
“A friend and I both applied in November last year. We even took out the insurance but to this day nothing has happened. We have not seen a house or a plot. Everyday we are just told a different story,” Visagie said.
She said what hurts her the most is that she was told to take out insurance cover and is paying for a house she does not have.
Afrika is not sure whether she took out a life insurance or a house insurance as no contract was sent to her as promised by the broker.
“To tell you the truth, they just said we must take out insurance which will be used for our houses. They told us we will move into our houses in mid February but we are already in November. Kharigub just keeps telling us that the town council does not want to give him land,” Afrika said.
Swabou's Salavictor Kaoseb said people experiencing problems cancelling their policies should take the forms to him.
GROOT AUB, LITTLE HOPE
A source told The Namibian that he once worked with Hydraform in Groot Aub and managed to register no less than 200 residents of that settlement for the low cost housing scheme.
One of the applicants, a pensioner, paid a deposit of N$31 000 and another applicant paid N$20 000. Both the applicants' houses have not gone beyond shoulder height.
The source also said because the Groot Aub residents know him personally, they have been asking for refunds. However, their forms state that the application fee is non-refundable.
“When they saw that they were getting a lot of interest, they printed new forms to include a clause stating that the application fee is non-refundable,” the source said, claiming that Kharigub threatened him when he started talking.
“Marius came to the house where I stay with one of my cousins, who is also a victim of this scam. He was accomponied by his brothers and threatened me. He knows exactly who I am. I am not afraid, but what he did to those people is not right,” the source said.
Kharigub denied ever threatening anybody saying that he does not engage in street gossip.
Rehoboth Town Council public relations officer Jeffrey Kasupi confirmed that the council is aware of the Hydraform building scheme after they did a presentation on 10 March this year.
Kasupi said they do not doubt the quality of the houses Hydraform will construct as they have seen some of them.
“Practically, Hydraform has proven to build quality low cost houses should anybody question the quality thereof. A house which was constructed on the same model in 2007, as a model house was first sold at N$32 000. The same house was sold for N$195 000, which is evidence that houses constructed through this concept are of good quality,” Kasupi said.
The council has until now not made a decision on whether to make land available to Hydraform or not.
NO LAND ANYWHERE
“Things are back to normal now, and we will start building the houses now,” he said, adding that the delay at Rehoboth was caused by a Baster Kaptein's Raad and the Rehoboth Town Council dispute as well as the restructuring after the chief executive officer retired.
He also said the delay in Groot Aub was caused by the breaking down of the Hydraform machinery.
“There was also a delay from the investors' side because they did not want to release funds where the land had not been given yet,” he said.
Refuting claims that Hydraform received amounts of N$40 000 and N$20 000 from applicants, Kharigub said Gobabis promised to join once Rehoboth endorsed the project.
He said life insurance was never meant to be confused as insurance on the house but rather for the contractors, who if the beneficiaries could not pay, Hydraform would recover the funds.
The businessman said he understands why people are sceptical,especially after waiting for so long but asked them to be patient.
Walvis Bay municipality public relations manager Kevin Adams said Kharigub approached them for land but his application was unsuccessful.
Kharigub maintains that the Walvis Bay chief executive officer supports Hydraform and will welcome the company if land is available.
“People are not patient.What we need to understand is that people are hungry for houses and mass housing is not enough. We need to assist. I believe that Hydraform can help,” he said.
Kharigub denied that they asked for deposits despite deposit slips produced by one of the applicants. He also said the registration fee paid was for administration and should not be seen as fraud.
On Monday, Kharigub traveled to Keetmanshoop to start work on the project.
Venter is now renting a room in Otjomuise, Windhoek. He moved there because it made no sense to him to pay between N$2 000 and N$3 000 in rent while commuting between Rehoboth and Windhoek.
By Ndapewoshali Shapwanale: The Namibian Additional reporting by Johnathan Beukes