A RENOVATED 16-storey colossal in the inner city was recently awarded with Joburg’s most prominent accolade for its regeneration efforts.

Once a hijacked building, Cavendish Chambers is 2010 Halala winner in the Not Houses but Homes categoryOnce a hijacked building, Cavendish Chambers is 2010 Halala winner in the Not Houses but Homes category (Photo: courtesy of Angela Rivers, Afhco)
Cavendish Chambers on the corner of Kruis and Jeppe streets is the newly refurbished project of the Affordable Housing Company, or Afhco. It received the Halala Joburg Award on 12 May under the Living Joburg category.

Under Afhco, the once hijacked office building has been transformed from a grimy, dilapidated structure into a breathtaking luxury apartment block. It was obtained in 2006 for a mere R8-million, and underwent an extensive 40-day cleaning with the help of 30 labourers – resulting in 30 waste skips being filled.

Then a complete refurbishment plan was initiated to the value of R36,5-million. Every window needed to be replaced, as well as a complete rehabilitation of the outside facade because of the spalling, which happens when concrete starts separating from the facade.

This was followed by a new lift system as well as a new substation for City Power being installed by Afhco.

The Halala Joburg Award was handed to Afhco by the Johannesburg Development Agency (JDA), the City’s entity responsible for the regeneration of the inner city through encouraging public and private partnerships.

Afhco transformed the 16-floor office building into 187 apartments targeted at emerging middle-class residents earning between R3 000 and R10 000 a month. They aim to offer leisure lifestyles at affordable prices.

The colourful kitchen area is practical and roomyThe colourful kitchen area is practical and roomy (Photo: courtesy of Angela Rivers, Afhco)
The apartments were created by converting the empty and derelict building into well-designed, contemporary, stylish and reasonably priced living spaces.

With rentals ranging between R1 600 and R3 000 a month, these units have two-toned painted walls, ceramic tiles, modern kitchens including cookers, DSTV aerials, VoIP phones, internet and DSTV connectivity, fingerprint access, 24-hour security and full-time building mangers and cleaners.

After a guided tour by Lebo Mashego, Afhco’s urban development manager, it is evident that Cavendish Chambers prides itself on providing and catering for the needs of residents.

Ranging from security guards, who don’t spend much time at home and don’t require much space, to small families wanting a secure home close to work, these apartments are affordable and offer clean comfortable living spaces.

Cavendish Chambers is one of the buildings that offer a blueprint of what the inner city should move towards and aims to cater for the needs of people who want to live in walking distance of their workplaces.

In a media statement, the JDA notes: “The Halala adjudication panel, in awarding them [Afhco] the Living Joburg Corporate Investor Award, recognises the daunting task [it] took on converting a former commercial building into desirable homes in the inner city.”

Development agency
The annual Halala Joburg Awards recognise investors and their projects involved in contributing to the redevelopment of the inner city and the improvement of quality of life of its workers and residents.

Sunny and comfortable – a Cavendish bachelor’s flatSunny and comfortable – a Cavendish bachelor’s flat (Photo: courtesy of Angela Rivers, Afhco)
This year, the adjudication panel comprised Lael Bethlehem, the chief executive officer of the JDA; Neil Fraser, an urban development specialist; Anne Steffny, the director of Kagiso Urban Management and the Central Johannesburg Partnership; Gert Dry, the director of housing empowerment finance at Absa; Salome Sengani, the senior member of Musa Capital investment firm; Santhurie Naidoo, the City’s inner city programme manager; Nkosinathi Manzana, the senior development manager at the JDA; and Frank Meintjies, the Nelson Mandela Foundation’s Mandela Day co-ordinator.

“Rejuvenating a city is a massive task,” says Bethlehem. “We [the JDA] rely on a multitude of partners to transform all the areas of decay.”

According to Susan Monyai, the agency’s marketing manager, this year’s awards shone a spotlight on a motivated collection of investors and developers who had made an impact on the inner city’s built environment.

“We will continue to identify, recognise and spotlight those who, through their investments and efforts, are contributing to significant regeneration in the inner city through the Halala Joburg Awards programme,” says Bethlehem.

Afhco’s current projects
At present, 5 000 residential units are being built, due for completion in 2011. This is to bring the company’s residential rental portfolio to about 9 000 units totalling R1,6-billion.

Afhco’s key strategy is to uplift communities around its buildings, to rehabilitate the inner city in turn. It is a leader in driving the construction of an improvement district that addresses social and schooling issues.

The company’s tenants’ guide reads: “Afhco Property Management provides good quality, well managed, affordable units in a secure environment so that your family can grow and enjoy a decent and better standard of living.

“Afhco Property Management does this by providing effective property management to ensure clean, well maintained and secure accommodation.”

Afhco was established in 1996 by Wayne Plit; he was joined by his brother Renny in 2001. It focuses on the redevelopment of Joburg’s inner city, mainly converting abandoned buildings into luxury affordable apartments.

According to the Afhco website, it was established as a direct result of the lack of professionals in the construction industry caused by huge scale developments such as the Gautrain and the 2010 upgrades.

Today, Afhco Holdings is recognised as a leading provider of affordable rental accommodation in the Johannesburg inner city and its surrounds. It also has a substantial commercial and retail portfolio.

The group owns 62 buildings in the inner city and 10 outside the CBD, representing approximately 3 500 rental apartments within the inner city and about 300 000m2 of retail and commercial space.

The company employs about 100 staff as well as indirect employment of 500, through contractors.

“It is a simple matter of fact that these exciting developments and people are out there changing the way we live in and use the inner city but they receive little or no attention from those outside,” notes JDA marketing manager Monyai.

That, however, is the flag that the Halala Joburg Awards waves so that people can look at the city and observe the changes and take pride in what a collective is achieving together, Bethlehem explains.

In the words of Angela Rivers, Afhco’s spokesperson: “People who work in the inner city can now save money on transport costs as they can live in a beautiful, luxury, affordable apartment [in] walking distance of their work.”

Story: City of Johannesburg