New lease on life for Joburg buildings


    [Image] The Casa Mia building in Berea, Johannesburg, has been given a new lease on life.
    (Image: Joshco)

    [Image] Tenants do have to abide by a strict set of house rules, but as a result the buildings are kept clean and in good repair.

    [Image] Communal cooking facilities in Joshco buildings are scrupulously clean and well equipped.

    [Image] An all too common scene in the inner city – washing strewn over balconies, cramped accommodation and buildings in need of care.
    (Images: Janine Erasmus)

    Lizette Stokes
      Account director, Jenni Newman PR
      +27 82 322 5162 or +27 11 506 7354
    Rory Gallocher
      CEO, Joshco
      +27 11 406 7303

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    Janine Erasmus

    The Johannesburg Social Housing Company (Joshco) is addressing a need for affordable, safe and clean housing in the inner city and nearby suburbs.

    Joshco is a council-owned body run by an independent board, and is both a developer and a rental agent. It was established in 2004 in response to the growing demand for well-managed accommodation in the city.

    Joshco acquires and converts buildings ranging from residential houses to multi-storey apartment blocks and entire housing estates, and then offers them to residents at monthly rates that start at under R1 000 (US$123) and go up to between R4 000 ($492) and R5 000 ($615), depending on the sizes and facilities available.

    The organisation says that with the 7 500 units spread across its 22 projects in the city and greater Johannesburg, about 25 000 tenants now have a roof over their heads. It has also stated that it’s working towards a goal of 15 000 units.

    Joshco is also able to provide emergency accommodation in the event of, for instance, shack fires, but stresses that this is not its core business.

    Prospective tenants must be South African residents of a legal age to enter into a contract, with dependants – for which they must provide proof – and a total household income of not more than R7 500 ($923) per month. Applicants must also already have registered with the national housing waiting list.

    Bringing life back into the inner city

    In 2010 Joshco won the UN Scroll of Honour, a prestigious award for work done in the field of human settlements. The organisation was unanimously selected as the winner by that year’s judging panel.

    Recently Joshco showed off some of its 10 inner city projects to a media group.

    While inner city living can be noisy, smelly and dangerous – just as it is in any number of big cities around the world – the tenants in Joshco buildings are comfortable in the knowledge that their buildings are properly maintained and safe.

    “All our buildings are secure,” said Joshco CEO Rory Gallocher, “and it’s often the tenants themselves who ask for it to be stepped up, although this could lead to an increase in costs.”

    Every Joshco building has a 24-hour guard on duty, and access is controlled with a fingerprint scanner. Visitors have to check in and have their print scanned and logged into the system for a certain period. If, by the end of this period, the visitor has not yet left the building, the guard can easily track down the visitor and follow up on the situation.

    Many of the rooms are communal, meaning that at the least tenants share a toilet and bathroom and may also share a kitchen, but these are large and well equipped. In some rooms cooking is allowed but where it is not, an alarm will alert the building supervisor.

    The organisation is also strict when it comes to crowding the rooms with more tenants than are allowed – if overcrowding is noticed, the lessee will receive notice promptly.

    The 11-floor Casa Mia building in the bustling suburb of Berea was once a hotel, and then an old-age home. Since Joshco took it over in April 2011, it offers 179 units ranging from studio apartments to two-bedroom flats. Rent starts at R750 ($92) per month.

    MBV, close to Joubert Park, the city’s oldest park, was once a military hospital but now can accommodate tenants in 184 communal housing units.

    The run-down old Chelsea Hotel in the densely populated suburb of Hillbrow today bears a fresh coat of paint and has undergone extensive maintenance since Joshco took it over back in 2008. It has 80 communal rooms and rent starts at R675 ($83).

    These are just a few of the current opportunities available for tenants.

    Other projects include the conversion of the former men-only City Deep hostel into family units, and the formalisation of the entire Sol Plaatjie settlement, in Roodepoort on Gauteng’s west rand, into a low-cost housing development complete with utilities and proper roads.

    Next on the list is the previously derelict AA House in Wanderers Street on the northern edge of the Johannesburg CBD. The building, restored to the tune of R40-million ($4.9-million), will offer 215 bachelor units and bigger rooms, and can also accommodate emergency tenants. It’s due to be officially opened later in July.

    Joshco is also finishing off the Linatex building in New Doornfontein, east of the CBD. This is an emergency shelter with 160 beds, each of which has its own locker, and a transitional shelter for tenants who are between buildings.

    Gallocher said that these refurbishments are just the beginning, as city management has identified over 130 so-called bad buildings in the inner city alone, which are ripe for redevelopment. Joshco’s efforts are helping to bring life back into Johannesburg and restore some of its lost respectability.

    This falls in line with the city’s 2040 growth and development strategy, which outlines a plan of incremental development goals to be fully rolled out by 2040.