“2 days in Johannesburg: Catherine Boucher, former CHRA Board member and current member of the Rooftops Canada Board, spend two weeks in South Africa and Kenya on a study visit this past summer. Catherine was part of the five member delegation from Rooftops Canada’s Canadian social and co-op housing partners. Here she shares her diary of two days spent visiting social housing in Johannesburg.”
Tuesday, June 26, 2012
Morning spent at NASHO (National Assoc. of Social Housing Orgs), which shares a lovely art deco building with the JHC (Johannesburg Housing Corp, a social housing provider with 3,000 units). Rooftops Canada helped start NASHO and continues to work with NASHO and its members on urban regeneration, community development and other issues common to all social housing providers.
The whole social housing sector is very young, about 15 years old. NASHO has relatively few members (less than 20), but most are quite large providers. The sector is growing since the government is actually funding new housing. We get an overview of NASHO from their staff (Malcolm and two others) and two of their members (Elise, the CEO of JHC and Alison from Yeast Housing in Pretoria).
Lunch is served in the NASHO offices and then Elise takes us on a tour of two JHC sites.
Brickfields, is a downtown site, new construction for families. I am shocked at the security aspects: whole complex is gated, with a guard house where someone in uniform opens the gate for vehicles. The pedestrian gate is accessed by tenants using fingerprint i.d! The issue of violence is huge in Johannesburg and providing this level of security encourages people to live in town. [None of the residents perceive the security as a negative – they want it!] It is a lovely complex much like Toronto’s St. Lawrence neighbourhood which influenced the design. It has a daycare centre so that the moms can drop the kid off, go to work and come home without the usual 2-3 hour commute to the townships. There are small shops on the ground level along the main street making it easy for residents to pick up groceries or household items on their way home. This is a winter holiday week and schools are closed, so the courtyard is full of kids playing. Lots of kids everywhere in Jo’burg. It is a very young population.
The next site, Hlanganani, is a bit out of town, not so dense, more typical of a suburban development. Townhouses, nicely laid out. Very modest sized units, even by already modest Canadian social housing standards. Kitchens consist of a half-fridge and a hotplate.
Again, the complex is gated and guarded. Some green space though, and people have planted kale and other greens in some portion of the common space.
Wednesday, June 27, 2012.
Off to Hillbrow, in downtown Jo’burg. This is an area which was built up with large apartment buildings in the 50’s and 60’s to house the white middle class. After white flight, the buildings became havens for blacks coming in from rural/township areas. The buildings deteriorated and many of them were (and still are) “highjacked”. This is when thugs take over a building, tell the tenants to pay rent to them and then do nothing to keep the building in repair. Many of them are totally derelict, windows broken, pipes pulled out, garbage thrown off balconies, and so on.
JHC started out in the mid-nineties by buying up some of these (for a song) and starting the long process of reclaiming the neighbourhood. They now have a critical mass and can have real impact. They have refurbished their buildings and other private landlords are now also investing in their buildings.
Our first host is Josie Adler and we all fall in love with her. She is a 68 yr old white activist who was born in one of the buildings in Hillbrow. She was an early anti-apartheid fighter, member of the Black Sash, and her brother-in-law Taffy, was the first CEO of JHC. About 7 years ago with JHC’s support, she started up eKhaya, a neighbourhood regeneration project.
The area was so unsafe (gunshots 24/7) that people hesitated to go out, even to buy groceries. The lanes were left unattended and became garbage dumps and drug dealer havens. Josie talks about putting cloves in her nostrils to reduce the stench.
She started by getting all the actors together: JHC, other social agencies, the tenants, the local church, retail shopkeepers and private landlord. They all chipped in to help clean up the lanes, set up a youth patrol crew (Bad Boyz). It had a miraculous effect over time, so that now people are feeling safe to walk around and let their kids play in the parks. Their success attracted other partners, like the Dutch international soccer team which sponsored a new soccer pitch during the 2010 World Cup. It is an incredible neighbourhood, very poor but totally vibrant. There are still many derelict buildings, but they don’t feel dominant anymore. Problem is as with other social housing venturing in depressed areas, the bad buildings are now outside the reach of SHIs to purchase!
Our next visit was with Chris, the finance guy at Madulamoho Housing Association (MHA) in the same Hillbrow district. MHA provides housing for people in the lowest income brackets, although all the tenants of these SHIs are employed. They have transformed some office and old student residences into both self-contained and communal units.
They have an added social development piece, working with local agencies. Many of their tenants use daycare or training services from their partner agencies, including the very old protestant church which has repurposed itself into a community agency centre. Again, tons of kids running around, but all sorts of holiday programming happening for them. Lots of laughter.
Madulamoho is a registered SHI. There are structural problems with the income banding, as is pointed out to us throughout the week. There are no operating subsidies, only capital. However, the capital subsidies are quite substantial.
Chris gives us lunch and we talk a bit about AIDS, which is still very much a scourge here. He mentions losing some of his staff to it recently and wishes the government would have a massive public education program like they did for smoking. It’s true that there is almost no smoking here, very rarely do you see anyone with a cigarette.
Then we are off to JOSHCO (Johannesburg Social Housing Co), the municipal non-profit with about 7,000 units. A lot of the stock is old public housing, but they are also aggressively adding to their portfolio. We spend time with their development staff person, a very bright and knowledgeable guy. Then we get in a van with 2 of their construction management staff to visit a couple of sites, both of them reclaimed downtown buildings. The first one, Rashers, was an office building which has been retrofitted into 90 communal rooms, sharing bath and kitchen facilities. The second one is just being finished and is currently not occupied. The AA building, again an office tower being transformed will provide bachelor, 1 and 2 bedroom units as well as a new shelter space.
Overall, we think this is the best day so far, mainly because we saw so much housing, fell in love with Josie, met some great folks who are excited about their work.