ABSTRACT The South African government has delivered many low-cost houses under freehold homeownership, in part on the assumption that neighbourhoods of homeowners will result in economically and socially viable communities. Drawing on qualitative data collected from four new poor neighbourhoods in post-apartheid Cape Town (South Africa), this article examines how homeowners forge neighbourly relations and construct ‘community’ on the basis of class status, social interactive and sentimental attributes of a sense of neighbourhood. The study found that inter-household familiarity, kin and friendship networks, residents’ perceived commonality and social control and sense of identification with place in new neighbourhoods are generally weak, but with variation between and within neighbourhoods. Acts of mutual assistance and some collective action are attributed to the agency of residents as a mechanism for coping with a common identity of deprivation. The authors conclude that the government's ambitions to create socially viable neighbourhoods are limited by their homeowning residents’ concern with privacy in the context of wariness of intimacy, distrust, fear/ubiquity of crime and violence, fear of gossip and jealousy, and poor sense of identification with place.