Rebuilding Foundations

An exploration of international development work in Africa

MHA Clarification

Earlier in my blog, I wrote that Madulammoho Housing Association (the company I’m working for) took over its inner city projects from the City’s social housing sector.  I was wrong.

Most of MHA’s projects are actually refurbished buildings that were occupied or hijacked.

After the Hillbrow neighbourhood rapidly deteriorated in the 1990s, many building owners walked away from their apartment complexes.  Tenants, however, continued to live in the buildings even after the power and water were eventually shut off.  Sometimes they did not have to pay rent and sometimes an informal group – often an armed gang – would collect rent even though they did not provide any building maintenance or services.

These situations are usually called occupied buildings.

Sometimes these are also called hijacked buildings, although the word “hijack” has violent connotations.  When these buildings were “taken over,” however, there was usually no violence involved.  Instead, any violence occurred afterward when a new group entered to collect rent.

Hillbrow is full of occupied/hijacked/abandoned buildings.  They are hazardous and unsanitary, but people live in them because they have nowhere else to go.

MHA buys or leases these buildings from the City.

One of the biggest criticisms against MHA is its high rent.  The rent is around R900 ($100 CDN) per month plus up to R500 ($60) for utilities.  The rooms are tiny and the tenants use communal bathrooms and kitchens. 

In comparison, I pay R3000 ($350) + utilities for a furnished bachelor apartment with a shared garden and pool.

What many people don’t realize, however, is how much maintenance and refurbishment is necessary to keep MHA’s projects relatively safe and inhabitable. 

A crew of cleaners constantly works in each project to keep the surface area clean, which is impossible to accomplish with so much usage.  At the same time, maintenance crews repaint, repair, and re-tile in an attempt to upgrade the buildings one step at a time.  MHA employs a House Manager at each project so that tenants have someone to voice any complaints to.  The House Manager is also supposed to deal with minor issues such as clogged sinks and report any larger issues for MHA’s maintenance staff to deal with.

I don’t know if MHA’s business model will work in the long run or help alleviate inner city poverty, but the organization has won numerous awards since starting its first project in 2005.  Awards have little meaning, however, to the tenants living in their projects.  It’ll be interesting to see the evolution of MHA over the next few years to see if they have established a viable method.

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