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Monday Nov 04, 2013

Joburg slums gobbled up one at a time

When Johan Scott last visited the Joburg inner city more than 10 years ago, the ambience of the streets was fear: muggings, drug dealing and abandoned buildings where sunlight streamed through broken windows.

Shipping containers mounted on unused silos will provide student accomodation in Newtown.

'The city was still in dramatic decline,' he recalled. 'It was known as where all the bad things happened. People were in constant fear of walking in the streets.'
Last week, Scott, a Pretoria resident, stood at a corner against the backdrop of a striking yellow and green Victorian building on the southern side of Eloff Street, where developers are moving to gobble up vacant and iconic buildings to transform the city.

Scott is a construction site manager at Chrysler House - a 77-yearold building in what was once known as Joburg's motor town - which is being converted into residential units for lower-income market workers.

The 15-storey building stands in stark contrast to the eyesore of lowrise motor repair workshop buildings in Marshalltown and is a jewel in the crown of residential developments shooting up across the onceailing urban landscape. 'The hope is that developments like this will eventually affect the area positively,' said Scott. 'The owners of the building next door began to paint since we started with construction and renovations here.'

And more change is under way. In Newtown, shipping containers mounted on top of unused silos are being transformed into homes for 360 students to address the acute shortage of student accommodation.

Last year, the Affordable Housing Company (Afhco) signed a R157 million loan deal with Agence Française de Développement to develop housing for lower-income workers in the inner city. Two buildings have been ear marked for conversion, including Chrysler House on the corner of Eloff and Albert streets.

Renny Plit, managing director of Afhco, has a vivid recollection of conditions in the inner city was 10 years ago.

'The difference is that there are now a lot of players in the inner-city development,' he said.

'The only problem is that the private sector at the moment can only service city residents earning from R4 000 a month... below that level there is a huge market that cannot afford to stay in the private sector flats and the council is not providing an alternative, so they are falling prey to slumlords. The only way we can really break the back of slumlords is to provide alternative decent places for people to stay.'

Plit estimated that the city needed to create 50 000 residential units for lower-end market workers because this need had given slumlords the market to operate in the inner city.

'Affordability... in the inner city has been the single biggest problem. We have a huge population that cannot afford the housing that the private sector is delivering.'

The dormitory-style design of Chrysler House, Scott said, was meant to accommodate shift workers who needed a decent living space close to where they worked.

'We simply followed what the people want and are telling us, and we balanced that with what we are allowed to do.

'This kind of housing has been done in student accommodation, but not in residential properties. The concept really focuses on single people and small families where they share communal ablution facilities.'

With continual migration into Joburg as a place of opportunity, the demand for formal housing will also continue to grow.

'We did research a while ago and we came up with about 100 bus services operating in Joburg and about 20 buses a day coming in from Africa. That to me, in terms of job creation and revenue for the inner city, is a major player,' said Plit.

'We have a large mix of people coming from rural South Africa and of course many coming from Africa,' he added.

'And that has created continual demand and thriving opportunity for business in the city.'

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