I am working in Johannesburg, South Africa, for Madulammoho Housing Association (MHA), an organization that provides affordable housing to inner city residents of Johannesburg. MHA has an innovative, stepped approach to housing that allows people to access different types of rental units depending on their income level. It owns 7 projects in Johannesburg and is currently looking to constructing an eighth – extremely impressive since the organization only began in 2004!
To provide a comprehensive approach to community empowerment, MHA works closely with their sister organization, Mould Empower Serve (MES), who provides social services to the tenants. These range from budget management (i.e. prioritizing rent) to physical health (such as organizing soccer tournaments) to community workshops (addressing subjects like gender violence or drug abuse). Essentially MHA supplies the facilities for people to get back on their feet while MES empowers the tenants to lead constructive lives.
So what’s my role with MHA?
I have been given three tasks to undertake in my 6 months here:
- Improving energy and water efficiency of the projects
- Collecting as-built information for each separate project
- Dealing with tenants’ concerns as they arise
My first task is a practical approach to sustainability. As energy and water costs have risen over the years, it has become increasingly difficult for low-income tenants to pay their bills. My role is to look for cost-effective measures that could lower their utility bills. This includes simple things like low-flow showerheads, heat pumps, and energy-efficient lighting. It also includes recycling and composting to reduce waste. If these measures reduce the carbon footprint of MHA’s projects, that’s great! But ecological sustainability is a secondary concern to reducing the economic burden of the tenants.
My second job is the result of MHA’s quick expansion. Because the organization grew so quickly, there is relatively little information on each of the housing projects. This makes it difficult to monitor, evaluate, and improve the projects efficiently. For instance, how do you estimate the cost of replacing all the showerheads when you don’t know how many showers are in each project? My job is to create a comprehensive database of all relevant construction information.
My third responsibility will sidetrack me almost every day. But these immediate concerns are extremely important to address. Although I am working for MHA, ultimately we are all working for the tenants. This community-based approach is what has made MHA so successful.
These 6 months are going to fly by.