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JHC takes its expertise northwards
01 December 2008

The Johannesburg Housing Company goes "outer city" with its Cosmo City project, while remaining committed to the "inner" city.

Neil FraserGENERALLY, I don't get involved in reporting on initiatives outside the inner city; there's enough happening inside! However, one of my favourite "inner city" entities, the Johannesburg Housing Company (JHC), is developing its first project outside the inner city and one cannot criticise it for taking its unique expertise and entrepreneurial approach to other parts that can only benefit from the experiences learned in the inner city.

On Wednesday, 26 November, the JHC held its project launch and annual general meeting luncheon at the site of the project in Cosmo City.

Why "one of my favourite inner city companies"? Right from its establishment in 1995 it set out not to be just another housing provider but rather to provide homes, not housing, and create community, rather than a collection of disparate tenants. This year's annual report really provides fascinating evidence of this approach.

The company strives to achieve its objectives via a number of innovative approaches. One of these is through a community development subsidiary, Makhulong A Matala, which monitors and handles social issues; entry and exit interviews; provides a programme to assist tenants who fall in arrears with rental payment; provides family financial management courses; establishes and manages creches within JHC developments using service providers who are independent, qualified early childhood development practitioners; presents vocational training courses (even certificated fire fighting courses); provides homework centres and presents after-school homework assistance programmes (supporting mathematics, reading and language as well as creative and empowering methods of play, computer skills training and life skills training).

Then there is sport, with Makhulong organising its own leagues in soccer and netball where teams from the different JHC buildings play one another. The leagues have now broadened their horizons by joining the Inner City Football Association - did you know there was one? - and Central Gauteng Netball.

Tenants' response
Tenants of course, respond to such an approach with their own initiatives; for instance, at Jeppe Oval a youth group has set up its own savings club; at Stanhope Mansions a debating group has developed to discuss "social and lifestyle issues that affect them" - as a result Makhulong arranged for the group members to visit the University of the Witwatersrand where they learned about public speaking and the parliamentary process of debate.

This has led to a further extension of debate with other youth in neighbouring JHC accommodation looking particularly at social and lifestyle policies that could be introduced to the youth of their buildings.

And the JHC isn't some insignificant entity but rather a now complex organisation with nearly 3 000 income-generating units producing a total rental income of nearly R80-million a year. There can be no doubt that its approach to "homes not housing" and "community not tenants" has had a substantial influence on trading results. Where else, particularly with this many units, does one find rental arrears at 0,34 percent of total rent billings and bad debts of 0,05 percent?

The 2008 annual report contains an interesting page on Who lives in JHC buildings? (Obviously this currently relates only to inner city tenants.) It shows that 46 percent are single households; 39 percent are couples or families and 10 percent are single-parent mothers and children; 76 percent of adults are employed and another 6 percent are self-employed; 8 percent are students but only 40 percent of adults work in the inner city, with the balance working elsewhere in Joburg. In addition, 22 percent have a car; 43 percent use taxis and transport, and 13 percent walk to or from work and school; 79 percent are adults (over 18), of which 48 percent have matric as their highest qualification and 39 percent have post-matric qualifications.

Hlanganani
The new project, named Hlanganani, is in fact the first social component of Cosmo City, situated to the northwest of central Jozi. Cosmo City is one of the central government's flagship projects in that it embraces the Breaking New Ground concept that the Housing Ministry launched a few years back. The concept is a major move away from previous planning regimes to "inclusive housing" by promoting fully subsidised, partially subsidised and bonded housing for the low and middle income market in one mega development.

Through the JHC project it will add "social housing for letting" to its mix. About a hundred hectares of the Cosmo City 1 200ha site have been developed, already providing more than 6 000 houses with an ultimate population of between 65 000 and 70 000 people. This is not one of the old approaches of sticking thousands of poor people far away from employment opportunities, but aims to provide opportunities to various economic levels within the development through formal and informal retail and industrial areas.

There are superb-looking schools and clinics already built. This is the first step towards a truly integrated society and Cosmo City could well be the model.

Much of the JHC's success can be traced to the vision of its chief executive, Taffy Adler, who was honoured in 2007 with the Schwab Foundation Award South Africa's Social Entrepreneur of the Year, which follows a number of other personal and company awards. Well done Taffy - richly deserved! Taffy for president!

Inner city projects
According to the 2008 annual report, the JHC is continuing to invest in the inner city with the refurbished Cresthill and Gaelic Mansions coming on stream at the end of 2007 and Bonvista, next door to the latter, being refurbished. There are also a number of other inner city projects that will be announced in due course.

Another major initiative that was introduced through the JHC in 2004 is the eKhaya Neighbourhood Association. This initiative focuses on the public environment, initially in areas where JHC developments are situated but now spreading to other parts of Hillbrow.

It brings together eKhaya's security and cleaning teams with relevant City departments, the South African Police Service, the Hillbrow Sector Community Policing Forum, churches and community organisations, et cetera and, at heart, is building "management networks developed in the interests of good neighbourliness and community service". The process is predicated on three tenets:

  • Investment in physical repair and ongoing maintenance of building and public space infrastructure;
  • Good management within buildings and in the public space; and
  • Development of strong relationships where those involved assume responsibility, recognise their obligations, accept accountability and develop shared trust - these relationships involve property owners, their building managers, residents and users, and councillors and agencies of the City.

These three tenets have led to a wide range of ongoing programmes:

  • eKhaya Safe New Year;
  • Lane management - keeping the notorious lanes between buildings clean and secure;
  • Promoting environmental health;
  • Maintaining the public environment;
  • Engaging with the council regarding "bad buildings";
  • Providing supplementary services - cleaning and security;
  • Making public space and recreation facilities safe and accessible for residents - a couple of weeks ago I visited a once grotty space between buildings which is now a basketball court attracting a great deal of activity; and
  • eKhaya Kidz Day - an organised day of fun and games for kids.

One of the champions of the eKhaya approach has been Josie Adler, who I think is best described as a "passionate community organiser/activist" (but then all community organisers are passionate!)

She wrote to me some time ago about the importance of community involvement in urban management: "It really is not rocket science that imposition of management regimes is not sustainable in meaningful terms - it didn't work for apartheid and it won't work for Joburg's inner city regeneration." She's right and eKhaya proves the point.

Incidentally, another community organiser is president-in-waiting Barack Obama! Neal Peirce says that his "history in grassroots organising got its first real blast of national attention from the Republicans. Rudy Giuliani, keynoting the GOP's convention in St Paul, provoked a wave of snickers and catcalls by sneeringly asking, ‘What's a community organiser?' Sarah Palin followed with a dig of her own. [Neither of them exactly covered themselves with glory in the presidential race - my note!]

"On November 4, they [and we] learned that Obama's three years on the streets of Chicago, helping the unemployed find jobs and helping neighbourhoods press the city for critical services, was a first step in building the impressive organisational skills to win the presidency of the United States."

So, maybe it's Josie for pres!

Yeoville-Bellevue
Another community activist is Maurice Smithers, who left his position in the provincial government to become "the development co-ordinator of the Yeoville-Bellevue Community Development Initiative". He has just started a newsletter on this area called Yeovue and you can email him for details on This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Smithers writes: "Please find attached the latest Yeoville-Bellevue newsletter. As always, your comments are welcome. Your contributions would be even more welcome. Sponsorship, support - that goes without saying. The newsletter cannot survive without it. Apologies too for the small type. This is because we do not yet have sufficient cash flow to allow us to have more pages or to migrate to an A4 size. Our eventual goal, of course, is a tabloid size [A3] weekly community newspaper. Further on down the road ..."

He deserves support; he has been a Yeoville "passionate" for as long as I can remember and then some! Maurice for pres!

The point is that there are so many truly committed people who are passionate about the inner city and particular aspects or corners of it, that they deserve all the recognition and support we can give them.

Sadly, I had a lot of responses to my PS of last week with regard to Johannesburg metropolitan police department (JMPD) officers openly littering the streets - here are two examples:

"I have also seen many JMPD and [South African Police Service] officers doing the same, mainly in the main road into oncoming heavy traffic."

"In full view of about four disbelieving witnesses, I have seen a Jeppe constable relieving himself on the pavement and when he was confronted, we were waved off as if we were being petty. It is depressing, with depression being a symptom of helplessness. If these are the visible role models for society how am I going to stop the vagrants from defecating in the park next door to my property?"

Next week, we'll start a wrap up for the year with a review of inner city progress through 2008.

Regards, Neil

Walking tour: Saturday, 6 December
Art deco in the heart of town
Johannesburg flourished in the 1930s and developers vied to build higher and higher. The skyscrapers and flag poles were ambitious and the architecture spoke of the United States and a new streamlined world of trans-Atlantic liners and high-speed travel.

Exuberant and flashy, ambitious and confident it was a great way to express the emergence from the Great Depression.

Meet Raymond Cardoso and Flo Bird at the Cenotaph in Beyers Naude Square; the tour starts at 2pm. The cost is R55 for members of the Parktown and Westcliff Heritage Trust and R75 for non-members. Booking is at Computicket, on 083 915 8000 or 011 340 8000, or through the Computicket website.

For more information, telephone Eira Bond on weekdays from 9am to 1pm on 011 482 3349.

Bus tour: Saturday, 13 December
Nooitgedacht anniversary tour
A repeat of the popular tour of the Anglo-Boer War site of Nooitgedacht is timed to take place on the anniversary of the battle. It is situated on a beautiful private game farm in the Magaliesberg that is still owned by the descendents of the original settler family.

The tour will visit a church built by the family and a family cemetery. While being bussed to the top of the mountain, the tour will pass a vulture colony, a black eagle's nest and may be lucky enough to see some of the wildlife on the famed farm.

To fully appreciate the views and the battle sites will require some walking on flat but rocky terrain so please bring sun screen, a hat, sturdy walking shoes, plenty of water and a packed lunch.

Meet Deanna Kirby and Johnna Turner at the Sunnyside Park Hotel, 2 York Road, Parktown at 7.30am for departure at 8am. The cost is R385 per person and bookings are to be made through the Parktown and Westcliff Heritage Trust office.

For more information, telephone Eira Bond on weekdays from 9am to 1pm on 011 482 3349.

Walking tour: Sunday, 14 December
Christmas special Main Street Mall and Christmas trees
This is the time to bring visitors and family who would like to venture into the heart of town, to enjoy a stroll along Main Street with the great mining houses and mementoes of mining, the old stock exchange with its bull and bear sculpture and the fountain in Hollard Street, right through to 44 Main Street, where the Anglo American Group has its Christmas trees, each one created by a South African artist.

From Gandhi Square to the magistrates' courts, history abounds. Meet Dennis Adams and Pascale Petit at the Nedbank open parking area in Marshall Street - between Rissik and Loveday streets. The tour starts at 2pm.

The cost is R50 per person and booking is at Computicket, on 083 915 8000 or 011 340 8000, or through the Computicket website.

For more information, telephone Eira Bond on weekdays from 9am to 1pm on 011 482 3349.

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Last Updated on 01 December 2008