Stopping the inner-city rot

© Creamer Media's Engineering News Online

Liezel Hill

The official opening of the Brickfields Housing Project in Newtown, Johannesburg, represented a “tangible expression” of the way that the worldwide phenomenon of decay in inner cities could be transformed through effective regeneration programmes, President Thabo Mbeki said on Friday.

The site, which started over a hundred years ago as a non-racial dormitory for the city's mining industry and later, after forced evictions by the Apartheid government, deteriorated into a wasteland and dumpsite, has been transformed into a modern-looking complex of low and medium-rise buildings, clustered around green courtyards and protected open spaces for children.

Johannesburg Housing Company (JHC) CEO Taffy Adler explained that the project was initiated to follow up recent big investments in the area - such as the Nelson Mandela Bridge and Market Theatre Square - with residential development.

“The infrastructural investments have meant a good number of businesses have been returning to the city centre, and we want to balance this with more people coming to live in the CBD as well.”

The Brickfields project was identified by South Africa's National Department of Housing as a Presidential Job Summit Program, by the City of Johannesburg under the Egoli 2010 program, and by the Department of Trade and Industries in terms of their Spatial Development Initiatives Program.

It is the second pilot project on rental housing in Gauteng, after the Tribunal Gardens launched in 2003.

Also significant is that the project represents the largest public-private partnership in residential development in the country, Adler said.

Of the total of R121-million invested in the project, 35% was sourced from the private sector.

Equity for the development was contributed by BlueIQ, ABSA, JHC, AngloGold Ashanti, the Gauteng Partnership Fund, the Gauteng Department of Housing and the Gauteng Department of Housing subsidies.

A R50-million loan was financed through a 50:50 partnership between ABSA and the National Housing Finance Corporation.

The first two phases, already completed, involved the construction of 656 residential 1, 2 and 3-bedroom units, with a further 190 to be added in the third phase, which will involve development on the west of the site.

There is also a possibility of further expansions to the north and south, Adler said.

The development opened on July 1 and over 1 300 residents have since moved in, with some 50 units still unoccupied.

Thirty-five percent of the units are subsidised and reserved for people with a monthly income below R3 500, but the balance are mixed-income units.

Rent ranges from R1 242 to R2 376 for unsubsidised rentals, which are being targeted at the R4 000 - R8 000 income bracket.

Speaking at the opening ceremony, President Mbeki said that a crucial part of government's human settlement programme is reducing barriers between the first and second economies.

“We must bring a stop to pro-rich housing development strategies where the best located land is always available to the rich…to create gated communities and golf estates, while the poor can only access dusty semi-developed land far away from modern infrastructure.” Gauteng Premier Mbazima Shilowa said that local and provincial government in the Gauteng and Johannesburg areas are being faced with the 'problem' of ever-increasing rapid urbanisation, but that it is important to realise that this is a common phenomenon in most global cities.

The challenge, rather, is to work on providing the necessary infrastructure in the affected areas, he said.

In the area of housing, the provincial government is focusing on formalising, upgrading and eradicating informal settlements, as well as formulating a programme for infrastructure and housing crackdowns in 20 priority former townships.

Johannesburg executive mayor Amos Masondo also emphasised that, despite the complex challenges facing the city, which include rapid urbanisation and migration, poverty and unemployment, and service provision, the city of Johannesburg is an important cultural and socioeconomic asset, to the country as well as the rest of Africa.

Gold-miner AngloGold Ashanti, which contributed R2-million to the project, last month announced that it is to relocate its corporate headquarters from 11 Diagonal Street, in the Johannesburg city centre, to the historic Turbine Hall site, in Newtown.

Anglo American SA CEO Lazarus Zim said that the resources group considered itself a permanent part of Johannesburg and would continue to support developments in the area.