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Johannesburg, South Africa

City aims at integrated housing systems for all

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Life on a Sunday afternoon in the Fleurhof housing estate is lazy – people sit outside in the sun, or walk to the shop, or socialise on the pavement outside a shebeen.

 

The city’s housing estates all started with Cosmo City, 40km north-west of the city, back in 2001. It was Joburg’s first experiment with mixed housing, and 5 000 units rose from the veld.

 

Four different types of housing were offered. The traditional RDP or the term used nowadays, breaking new ground or BNG, houses. These are fully subsidised by the government, where the owner pays only for utilities. Social housing is rental housing, developed by private institutions, who are given a subsidy for the construction of the units. GAP housing is bonded, where the homeowner is given a subsidy to help with the deposit, then pays a monthly bond. And, finally, a fully bonded house.

 

Joburg has around 180 informal settlements, being a magnet for immigrants, both internal and external. It thus faces huge housing challenges, as well as the issue of developing housing closer to the city and job opportunities.

 

Cosmo City is impressive: it has six schools, five parks, a clinic and a shopping centre, and houses up to 70 000 people. It even has green elements, with some homes sporting solar geysers.

 

City officials consider Cosmo City to be very successful but the model has steadily improved over the years. It caters for mixed income earners but in a separate way, with housing grouped according to salary levels.

 

Pennyville, off Main Reef Road and about 10km from the CBD, came along in 2006 and offers the same combination of housing but is less segregated, with different income groups in the “general vicinity” of one another, says Manny Sotomi, the City’s director for housing in project support.

 

Pennyville comprises 2 800 units, having eradicated the Zamimpilo informal settlement, as well as giving housing opportunities to Orlando East backyard dwellers and people from Riverlea, Noordgesig and Westbury.

 

It offers 1 600 RDP/BNG homes. The Johannesburg Social Housing Company rents 600 units for those earning between R3 000 and R7 000 per month. There are 200 social housing units, for the next income bracket, rented by private institutions. Banks rent the last 800 units, to mid- to high-income earners.

 

Then came Fleurhof, a housing estate further along Main Reef Road, in the shadow of reclaimed mine dumps, some 15km from the city centre. It consists of 33% RDP units, 33% GAP housing, and 33% privately owned units.

 

The estate is quiet except in the playground, where children’s happy laughter echoes from colourful swings and slides. But that doesn’t mean it’s crime-free, says a resident walking back from the shop.

 

Several residents’ cars were stolen recently, and some houses were broken into. But men in the community got together, patrolled the streets, and the crime seems to have disappeared.

 

She moved into a bonded two-bedroom house in 2011, and is content, having sold her house in Soweto. “Life here is quiet, it is near to town, and I get a taxi to work. I am at peace.” She works as a career consultant at an inner city school, and bought her 46m² house for R330 000, paying back R2 668 monthly. She put up a R10 000 deposit, and lives by herself. But she says the development is mostly home to families.

 

Despite residents coming from diverse areas, she says there is a sense of community, with a residents’ committee holding regular meetings on community matters.

 

Fleurhof comprises three and four-storey brightly coloured blocks of flats constructed together with freestanding and semi-detached houses. The flats are built as RDP/BNG units. One resident moved in in March this year. He doesn’t have a job and he shares the two-bedroomed flat with his disabled sister, paying their utility bill from her disability grant.

 

He moved from a backyard room but would prefer to have a house, he says. He maintains that he had to install electricity in the tiny flat, which only had a sink in the kitchen, no cupboards and bare concrete floors. The flat has no hot water but for those on the waiting list for years living in single rooms, it surely must be an improvement. The RDP units are constructed on a tight budget, and usually electricity is an add-on, paid for by the local city council.

 

When complete, the development will consist of 9 600 units, one of the largest integrated housing developments in Gauteng. It will contain three schools, a community centre, five religious sites, seven crèches, four mixed-use business centres, and up to 30 parks.

 

But the City is rolling out its showpiece at South Hills towards the end of the year. This is a development that is focused around a red data species and a seasonal river running through a shallow valley. Housing will be built on either side of the large green space, giving it an almost country feel. It is also closer to the CBD, at around 7km as the crow flies.

 

“It is a tighter urban design, closer to transport routes and employment opportunities,” says Sotomi.

 

So, the plan is to mix the working and lower middle class - you might see a gardener or fireman living next door to a teacher, in an “urban conurbation not a suburb”, explains Sotomi.

 

The EIA has been done and approved, and Sotomi promises that the houses will be of higher quality than what has been so far produced. Some 5 000 units are planned, with the private sector partner being Standard Bank. The development will combine 50% RDP/BNG units, 25% GAP housing and 25% bonded houses, some of it as 4-storey blocks.

 

A grand arch of units anchors the development, built protectively around the rare plants, a type of vygie, which will have a 50m buffer zone around them.

 

Bonded flats are geared at those earning between R7 500 and R12 500, in units from 30m² to 43m². GAP units are for those earning between R3 500 to R15 000, in units of the same size. Social housing units in multi-storey blocks are for earners below R3 500 per month, with a monthly rental of R750.

 

Only 60% of the site will be developed, says Karel Oberholzer, a project manager at Calgro M3 Holdings, the developers of South Hills and Fleurhof, and other developments in Joburg. The wetland will be rehabilitated and exotic plants will be removed. “It will be left better than before,” explains Oberholzer.

 

It’s about a lot more than mortar and bricks for him. “It is pleasing to see the excitement when people move in – it is heartwarming and uplifting to make a difference in their lives, really gratifying.”

 

Thabo Maisela, the City’s executive director for housing, says: “The City started with the innovation that was Cosmo City, improved on the integration and mix with Pennyville, further pushed the envelope with Fleurhof. The ultimate goal is a single housing system to meet all the precepts of the GDS 2040 with the South Hills project. The City strives to move away from housing for the poor to a housing system for all." 

 

You can’t ask for more than that.

 

 

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