Jeppestown is full of social and economic contrasts. As a light-industrial area, Jeppestown features a myriad of small factories, car workshops and hostels. Hostel dwelling has been the mainstay in this area since the days of the gold rush, with the network of narrow streets offering close contact and integration for the multi-racial Jeppestown residents. Today, alleyways have become a canvas for the city’s graffiti artists who express themselves on the region’s walls. Jeppestown possesses the potential to be a genuinely integrated sphere of development in Johannesburg as a result of its good connectivity in terms of road networks and rail, as well as proximity to important social amenities.
Building Bjala Square
Bjala, meaning ‘to plant’ in Northern Sotho, was founded in 2011 by JJ de Castro Maia as an entrepreneurial venture. JJ saw the potential in Jeppestown. “Looking at the buildings in the area, I noticed that the human scale was wonderful and not as intimidating as some other areas in Johannesburg’s inner city. There are green spaces and the area is close to places of work and transport.” Bjala acquired buildings centred around a park in Jeppestown. Bjala Square became the flagship project and hub from which the Bjala team operates.
Bjala Square has four stories for residential living and an extra two for community projects and parking, as well as street-level retail space. Bjala has completed 67 high- quality, affordable housing units as part of Phase 1. Phase 2 is nearing completion and offers value with spacious, bright units, laminated flooring, porcelain tiles, granite kitchen counters and bathroom vanities. The architectural plan features a sustainable use of energy in the units and offers space that enables socially positive human habitation through the use of natural light and warm colours.
Despite quality finishes and spacious units being associated with a more affluent market, Bjala’s units are pitched for low-income earners, and Bjala has a policy of first prioritising tenants from the local area who earn below a certain threshold. Thereafter, tenants from outside the area who earn above the threshold are considered, if they are willing to give back to the community by running a community upliftment initiative in the area. One such project, the Jeppestown Photoclub, is run by resident Rebecca Crook. The initiative seeks to amplify the voices of children through photographing and storytelling. They meet on a regular basis and develop their work related to photography for exhibition.
Creating Value Beyond The Tangible
What sets Bjala apart from traditional affordable housing providers is their deep social concern to improve quality of living through fostering community relationships and being innovative. Bjala creates opportunities for residents to enjoy dignified space and social value beyond the bricks and mortar of their immediate living space.
Partnering With Simanye Trust, a non-profit organisation, a part of the roof of Bjala Square has been utilised to house an aquaponics farm. Malibongwe Sithole, a well-known Jeppestown personality, is responsible for the rooftop farm that generates produce, which will be sold locally and possibly supply Streetlight Schools food feeding scheme. Still in its infancy, the farming scheme hopes to grow and ultimately create more local jobs and entrepreneurship opportunities.
The aquaponics farm is a closed circuit integration of fauna (fish) and flora (spinach, coriander and basil). According to JJ, “Bjala wants this initiative to build community through the shared tasks involved in looking after a farm and an opportunity for city-dwellers to connect with nature. The Simanye Trust is interested in social business modelling. Both benefit the community, making this a fantastic partnership.” The farm also provides Streetlight Schools, another programme housed at Bjala Square, with a stimulating space for its extracurricular activities, effectively creating an outdoor classroom for kids.
In addition to the farm, Streetlight Schools operates from Bjala Square with the goal of addressing South Africa’s education crisis through low-cost innovative primary schooling. Bjala and Streetlight share the vision of creating a completely integrated educational path starting with early childhood development and moving on to primary, secondary and tertiary levels.
Through Streetlight Schools and the payment of a nominal fee of R60 per month, Bjala Square’s residents are able to ensure that their children are equipped with skills that allow them to advance. Streetlight was founded by Melanie Smuts and has passionate caregivers at the helm, including Dionne Mankazana and Anna Moi. The organisation’s innovative layout marries curriculum and spatial design, and Streetlight’s progressive curriculum approach strives to build on what the urban environment has to offer.
Bjala Square is also the platform and incubator to several Arts and Community projects such as Umuzi, a one-year paid learnership preparing the next generation of creative professionals in design, photography and copywriting.
Several arts initiatives such as graffiti art shows are working together with the people of Jeppestown to take care of the park adjacent to Bjala Square.
Partnering with TUHF
“My involvement with TUHF started before I became a client, while I was working with inner city buildings. I first met Nano, then a couple of people in the organisation and spoke at length about buildings and the city in general. Through our interactions, it became clear that we shared a common interest in rejuvenating Jozi. Once I left my past engagements, a more personal relationship with TUHF began. Bjala could not carry on with its endeavours without TUHF as a partner and I think an important distinction between TUHF and other funders is that they engage on a personal level, as part of our shared vision for the city,” JJ explained.The global city landscape has changed sharply in recent years thanks to the dynamics of rapid urbanisation.
With global urban populations set to increase by two billion within 20 years, communities, developers and governments alike will face massive challenges to achieve socially positive living environments. Interventions such as Bjala Square and Bjala’s urban programme, which create affordable living spaces that go well beyond the conventional paradigm of bricks and mortar, are a necessity for Joburg to deliver on its aspirations of being a ‘world class African city’.From our 2015 Integrated Annual Report
Changing Perceptions And Lives
For many, working in the construction industry still conjures up images of brawny men carrying heavy equipment. Sheila Liu, who moved to South Africa 15 years ago, is challenging these perceptions. With a 10-year track record in construction, Sheila is inspiring the next generation while changing the face of Kempton Park.
Sheila’s construction company has successfully developed 10 blocks of flats and now employs seven individuals from its offices.
In her initial projects, Sheila received finance from banks. However, when their willingness to finance developments decreased with the economic recession, she turned to TUHF with her plans to develop Citylink Court, a new building development in Kempton Park, which is a decision she has never regretted.
Sheila has lived in Kempton Park since coming to South Africa and sees enormous potential in the area.
In May 2012, Sheila bought the land that Citylink Court now stands on. She began construction in July 2012 and by January 2013, residents were already moving in.
Citylink Court consists of four one-bedroom and eight two-bedroom units, with rent ranging from R3 500 to R4 700 per month. The complex provides affordable, secure homes close to residents’ work, shopping centres and entertainment. The location offers residents the opportunity to live their lives within the Kempton Park area, ensuring that the money that they earn is fed back into their community, stimulating further growth in the area.
The complex currently provides employment for three people: a cleaner, a night-time security guard and a building manager who works from the Company’s offices.
Citylink Court is the first TUHF-financed building in Kempton Park. Its success has helped forge the way for TUHF to play a part in this rapidly developing area.
Looking back on her experience with the Citylink Court development, Sheila praises TUHF for their efficiency and their ability to understand and adapt to each customer’s needs. For her, it is the people of TUHF who make all the difference. She cannot stress enough what a difference having a personal relationship with her funder has made.From our 2015 Integrated Annual Report
Acquiring A Taste For Affordable Rental Development
For most of its long history, Rosettenville, south of the Johannesburg CBD, has been the first port of call for tens of thousands of Portuguese-speaking migrants seeking new lives in the City of Gold.
To this day, Rosettenville retains a distinctly Portuguese flavour – a flavour now known around the world thanks to the worldwide fast food phenomenon, Nando’s, the chain of peri-peri chicken restaurants that first opened in this suburb in 1987.
Traditionally a white working class area, this southern suburb has seen the demographic changes that have swept Johannesburg in recent decades leave their imprint, as the city’s population swells and demand for accommodation grows.
Accommodation in the area is mostly low density, consisting of a mix of free-standing and semi-detached houses and smaller, low-rise apartment blocks, making Rosettenville attractive to individuals looking for a less crowded option while still enjoying easy access to the Johannesburg CBD.
The City of Johannesburg’s 2040 long-term plan will likely serve to enhance the suburb’s appeal, as it includes densification and mixed-use development, encompassing retail, commercial and residential developments as well as improved rail and bus access.
Architect Jason Berchowitz is among those who have recently come to appreciate Rosettenville’s appeal to low-income would-be tenants and its potential for urban renewal. Berchowitz, whose practice is based in Glenhazel, explains that a good friend of his recently asked whether he would be interested in buying two small properties that had just been auctioned. The friend had bought the two double-storey properties, on Garden St, consisting of eight large one-bedroom units, at the auction but then realised that they did not fit in with his, by then, very substantial portfolio of larger low-income rental accommodation.
Berchowitz is no stranger to the inner city’s low-income rental market, having consulted with a number of clients (his friend included) on several renovations. Some of these projects consist of just a handful of units and others of hundreds of flats. When his friend offered to sell Berchowitz the two properties, he recognized their potential value and agreed to purchase them at a total of R1.5 million.
By mid-2014 Berchowitz had invested a further R1.8 million in renovations and the addition of four units to the rear of each property. All told, including an additional R200 000 in legal and transfer fees and other costs, the architect (and now property developer) was now invested in Rosettenville to the tune of some R3.5 million.
Since the face brick properties were in a reasonably good condition, refurbishment consisted mainly of upgrading the interiors, painting and installing new kitchenettes and fittings. The new-build apartments cost some R4,000/m2. Building and renovations were carried out by contracting firm, Chargeprop, with six employees permanently on site and as many as 20 workers, including subcontractors working at any one time.
The 24 units will be leased as two-bedroom apartments of 45m2 for rentals of R3300 per month.
Another selling point for Trilby Court and Caroline Court, as they have been respectively named, is the fact that Berchowitz has invested R150,000 in a 50,000-litre heat-pump hot-water system, which he predicts will mean water heating bills amounting to just 20% of conventional electricity costs. Once let, the properties will be managed by a local agent.
Berchowitz, who has three young sons, says he considers his first foray into property development an investment in his family’s future, an opportunity to earn annuity income when he retires one day and stops earning a fee-based professional income. But he stresses that his investment probably won’t be assured unless he and his team do their bit to uplift not only Garden Street but also the surrounding area. “What we’re doing with our properties will have a knock-on effect,” says Berchowitz. “We also hope to buy other properties nearby, do them up and create decent living spaces for our tenants, and create, property by property, a greater and greater positive knock-on effect in the community of Rosettenville.”
Explaining that he turned to TUHF because other banks saw only the negative in suburbs like Rosettenville “and none of the positive”, Berchowitz says there is a huge and growing demand for accommodation in the area. “Right now, Rosettenville is a pretty good place to live; Bit by bit, people like us are going to make it a great place to live.”From our 2014 Annual Report
Keeping It In The Family
It was Sizakele Majola’s mother who got her into the inner city low-cost accommodation business.
“My mom had a project that was financed by TUHF,” she explains. “But she didn’t drive, so I would drive her to events hosted by TUHF. And, of course, while I was there, I listened to what was going on and what was being said. And now I am a TUHF client myself.”
In 2013 Majola identified an opportunity – a small apartment building in the heart of Hillbrow, on the corner of Banket and Kapteijn streets. The building, Minfield Flats, had been virtually hijacked and was in a dreadful condition, rubbish filling its passages and exposed live electrical cables posing a real danger to the people living there.
Buying the building was the relatively easy part of Majola’s first venture into low-income rental accommodation. Turning the building around, fixing it up and making it a sustainable investment would prove much harder. “That is why TUHF was so important to me,” says the City of Johannesburg emergency services professional. “TUHF was realistic; they helped me to plan what the building would cost to renovate, what all the other expenses would be and what cash flow I could expect.” (Majola paid R1.8 million for Minfield Flats and budgeted R650 000 to renovate it.)
TUHF also advised the new property entrepreneur on the processes involved in having the building vacated so that the builders and renovators could move in. Working through the Housing Tribunal an eviction order was obtained and executed. By July 2014 the once dilapidated Minfield Flats had been transformed; 29 smart new units (including three small ground- floor spaza shops) had been carved out of the once decaying property; a fire escape meeting SABS standards and access control had been installed and tenants had already moved in, paying R1 300 and R2 500 for the 12m and 18m2 studio flats.
Immaculate Painters & Renovations had just a month in which to transform Minfield. As project manager Mandla Radebe explained, the work included getting rid of a passage that ran from the front of the building to the rear and that served no real purpose other than to provide dark recesses that undermined the building’s security. The space claimed from the passage was used to enlarge the apartments while the builders also installed communal sinks and shelves and bathrooms for each group of four flats.
To illustrate what a terrible state Minfield was in at the time that he and his crew of 15 came on site, Radebe mentions that some 2.4 tons of rubbish was removed from the passages. (Rubble removed from Minfield during the month-long renovation filled ten truckloads.)
Apart from 15 Immaculate employees, more than a dozen sub-contractors were on site at any one time, carrying out electrical work, plumbing, carpentry, tiling and welding, each sub-contractor employing four to six people on the job, according to Radebe.
Since July 2014, Minfield Flats has employed three full-time staff – a security person, a cleaner and a caretaker. The three small spaza shops are leased by informal traders for R3500 per month, their presence boosting security and creating a welcome measure of economic activity.
The new owner is proud of the impact her hard work and investment are having on a small corner of teeming Hillbrow. “This is one of the hardest places in the city in which to do business,” Majola says. “But you can make money if you manage and control the place properly, and make sure that your tenants feel they are living in a good, secure place and that they are being well looked after.
“TUHF have looked after me exceptionally well – especially [CEO] Paul Jackson and [loan officer] Rekwele Mmatli – andI intend to look after my building and my tenants just as well.”From our 2014 Annual Report
Winning Back Jeppestown
Property Developer Dawie Swart Has Big Plans For What Is Today A Run-Down Part Of Jeppestown, Johannesburg.
Swart’s plans go beyond buying blocks of flats, fixing them up and turning them into decent accommodation. Instead he talks about creating “a neighbourhood”, turning “a dead area” into a community in which people will want to live, shop, work, socialise and raise their families.
In the property business since he was 19 years old, Swart bought his first building in Jeppestown in 2005. Financed by TUHF, the building was subsequently hijacked but Swart was determined to make his investment (and Jeppestown) work and he fought tooth and nail until eventually he won back control of the property.
Most recently Swart bought 28 Betty Street, a four-storey building that was once a clothing factory and that he and his partners are now converting into 84 flats; 60 two-bedroom (38m2 – 42m2) and 24 one-bedroom (25m2 – 28m2) apartments. As well as transforming the interior of the building, builders are adding another floor to the property. On the ground floor Swart is putting in quality retail space and he sees Betty Street, which is literally down the road from the Jeppe Police Station, being turned into a one-way with cobbled paving. “We’re going to create a quality living area, where people will want to live, where they’ll feel invested in their neighbourhood. It’ll be a bit like the Maboneng Precinct [closer to the Johannesburg CBD],” he says. Rents at Betty Street will be a reasonable R2,800 for one-bedroom units and R3,500 for two-bedroom units.
Swart will be heavily invested in the neighbourhood he envisages creating out of an area where, despite its proximity to a large police station, people have been afraid to venture at night – his company, Salt City, will eventually have 260 low-income units in Jeppestown, all financed by TUHF. And his investment is considerable. Swart bought 28 Betty Street in 2013 for R5.25 million but renovating the property and equipping it for its new residential use will cost double that amount. In total the entrepreneur expects to spend R40 million on renovations at his Jeppestown portfolio, at an approximate cost of R100,000 per apartment.
Being carried out at cost by Swart’s partners, Inkanyeli Projects, the 28 Betty Street renovation began in April 2014 and was scheduled to be completed by the time of the builders’ year-end holidays, ready to welcome new residents in January 2015.
Once fully let, 28 Betty Street will employ 14 people full-time: nine security and five management, maintenance and cleaning staff. This is apart from part-time employment that will be created. For eight months in 2014 some 70 people would have worked full-time on 28 Betty Street.
Swart’s vision for “his” part of Jeppestown will not only secure his and his partners’ investment, it will have the effect of winning back another part of inner city Johannesburg from decades of neglect, crime and grime. “A building doesn’t exist in isolation from its surroundings,” says Swart.
“If you want a building to work, the area around it has to work; people want to feel part of a community. And when they feel that they are part of a community, they will help you to look after the area. It’s a very satisfying feeling knowing that we’re not just doing up a few buildings but that we’re uplifting a whole part of Joburg.”From our 2014 Annual Report
New “York House” To Breathe Life Into CBD
In the very heart of downtown Johannesburg, for decades York House was home to dozens of companies and hundreds of their office staff.
But when the area went into decline, demand for office space in the CBD went with it and for years York House, near the corner of Pritchard and Rissik streets, stood derelict. More recently, its interior fixtures, including most of the electrical wiring, were stolen and the vacant building stood as a forlorn monument to more prosperous times.
Now York House is being reborn, its interior gutted and reconfigured to provide upmarket but affordable family accommodation. The new York House, which will be ready for occupation in early 2015, will offer over 200 units, all with bathrooms and kitchens, for rentals ranging between R2,500 and R4,500. Contractors will be on site for eight months, undertaking a massive 15,000m2 refit that will cost in excess of R20 million.
For most of the building period the construction project management company will have over 100 staff working at York House, its employees undertaking all electrical and plumbing work, and sub-contractors, amongst them builders, tilers, painters and plasterers, swelling the number of people working on site to over 300. While turning York House into desirable accommodation with all modern amenities, an additional two floors will be added, taking the property’s two wings to 11 storeys each.
York House is located just a block from the Johannesburg City Hall (which houses the Gauteng Provincial Legislature) and a well-established shopping centre. It is no more than two blocks from one of the inner city’s best-loved open spaces, Beyers Naude Square, and is a short stroll from the newly-renovated Central Library, one of Johannesburg’s most priceless cultural assets. In time the property will have direct access to an adjoining property which the same owners are also turning into apartments, bringing to approximately 1,000 the number of people who will call that stretch of Pritchard Street home – while 100 people will go to work there every day.From our 2014 Annual Report