Monthly Archives: June 2014

One month and I’m on the move…

 Tomorrow is July 1st:

And  I’ll be doing what every respectable Quebecquer does, move to new digs. I do have some red/white Canuck flag balloons to decorate my new “cottage”. In the apartheid era, white employers had to provide on-site housing for their staff. Not sure exactly why, but these had to be unattached to the main house. So, older parts of Joburg are full of these small (one bedroom) units in back yards. (In N’awlins, they are still referred to as slave quarters!)

My landlady is called Ruby Fouché, which is very N’awlins. So, here are some pictures of Miz Ruby’s cottage:

bottom floor

bottom floor


second floor, with the toilet in the corner

my door at the bottom of Ruby's garden

my door at the bottom of Ruby’s garden

My new home is quite nice, but it doesn’t come with wi-fi (which is not as ubiquitous here as back home). So I’m trying to find best way to keep connected. There are 3G “dongles”, but apparently won’t let you surf (or blog, or Skype), so that’s going to cramp my communication style a bit, for sure.

At the Grand Hotel, without Greta Garbo:

Spent the last week in beautiful downtown Boksburg. Kinda like a mashup of Kanata and St. Laurent Blvd. Airport hotels are same everywhere, I’m sure.

This was a week-long session, the last of a three put on by NASHO (my workplace) and SALGA, the South Africa Local Government Association, (the equivalent of FCM in Canada). The Netherlands, which is a huge supporter of housing and urban change work in this country, was funding a series of workshops for municipalities. The goal was to encourage them to work with Social Housing Institutions (SHIs) to meet housing needs in their cities.

Not surprisingly to someone from Ontario, where social housing lives at the municipal level, I heard about very similar challenges. Lack of access to land, political interference in service delivery, senior levels of government lacking understanding of the impact of their policies, and the fact that SHIs are not capacitated to deliver. The big difference is that there is a very aggressive target for new housing (altho only in approved “restructuring zones”). But getting the boots on the ground is just as difficult.



in hotel meeting rooms the world over….

And meanwhile, at the other end of town… 

I spent the previous Friday morning in Hillbrow (  with Josie (who introduces us as Gogo Josie and Gogo Catherine – that means “old woman” and is a sign of respect), visiting her hood. We saw the brand new beautiful centre put up by the Lutheran Church. It’s got a youth drop in space, a gorgeous dance studio, computer lab and some offices. The architect was (understandably) proud of this work

The dance studio

The dance studio in Hillbrow

We also visited the eKhaya park, where five daycares were having a field day.

unofficial climbing wall

unofficial climbing wall

Wherever Josie goes, she has a posse of young men from the neighbourhood who help to transform it into a safe space by just walking around and paying attention. They are lovely guys.

Hangin' with the Bad Boyz

Hangin’ with the Bad Boyz

And at the Pick&Pay:

There are three grocery stores within walking distance of my home : Woolworth’s (high end, caperberries, organic milk, gluten free stuff), SPAR (lower end, kind of like older Metros) and Pick&Pay (same, but bigger and more choice). Prices are generally pretty good:

  • 500 gr cherry tomatoes: $1.10
  • yogurt, 175 gr. $0.59
  • jar of olives, $1.50
  • organic milk, 1 L, $1.60
  • avocado, $0.60
  • english cucumber, $0.89
  • beer, 340 ml, $0.95

I don’t usually buy low-fat powdered milk

really yummy if...

really yummy if…

But the Pick&Pay had a different kind of food bank cart:

your name is

your name is Gertijie

It for now. Happy Canada Day!


In love with her voice….

My Garmin, that is. I have yet to name her, but I would follow her anywhere!

Re-calibrating my life....

Re-calibrating my life….

Yesterday, I drove to and from work on my own (well, you’re never alone when you have a sweet talkin’ gal telling you what to do every 30 seconds!). This will make everything easier and now I just have to remember to get in on the right (no, left) side of my cute little Citroën, lock everything in the “boot”, keep change handy (but not visible) for all the parking dudes, stay away from taxis that stop on a dime whenever someone puts up their hand, watch out for missing manhole covers (stolen for the metal), and not rely on non-existent street signs!

“Driving to Pretoria, Pretoria, Pretoria….”:

That will be happening soon, as my more hands-on work with Yeast City Housing starts, probably the first week of July.  YHC ( is one of NASHO’s members which is undergoing rapid expansion. It will be growing form 445 to 1,300 units over the next 3 years!  It’s a faith-based organization which came out of the Tshwane Leadership Foundation, a church-led support agency in downtown Pretoria. They have concentrated their housing to the very poorest of the poor, which here is basically below the non-existent social assistance rates.  Many  (most) of their tenants also live with other issues (addictions, mental health, abuse, street work, AIDS), as can be expected from folks who mostly live on the streets.

One of their sites, new last year, is a 27 unit building set on the site of a church hall. Thusanang is second stage housing for women who are street-involved and has an on-site office where supports are available.

Courtyard atThusanang, YCH

Courtyard atThusanang, YCH

However,the programs for housing are such that doing 100% housing for this population is not financially sustainable. The Social Housing program targets only 30% of a development to this income band, the other 70% has to be employed and able to pay a modest rent. There is no rent-geared-to-income here, just income bands and low rents based on unit size.

Recognizing this, YCH has embarked on an ambitious development, 734 units of mixed housing, Thembehlihle Village. They have now taken possession of the site and expect to start construction of the first phase very soon.

This will mean big changes to the organization, and Yeast has been working with NASHO on a plan to deal with all the various change management issues. The plan is mostly done, but now Yeast needs to implement various pieces, and this is where I come in. Planning to work with staff there on H.R and Policy and Procedures Manual.

My boss Malcolm and I went to Pretoria last week and I met two of the Management Team, Lukas and Ezekiel. We visited a number of their sites and had a lovely lunch in a downtown park.

Lukas, Ezekiel & Malcolm, my new triumvirate

Lukas, Ezekiel & Malcolm, my new triumvirate

NASHO news:

Malcolm left yesterday for 3 weeks holidays in Barcelona and the south of France! So I’m having to grow up fast now and be “self-motivated”, as the ads say. And the lovely Joan got snapped up by Elize of JHC and will be leaving us mid-July! It’s a very small office (four people, really), so any change is a big one.  Jacus Pinneaar, a consultant who has done lots of work for NASHO, will be “in loco parentis” while Malcolm is gone.  Here’s the view from my desk:

see my  hi-tech cellphone....

see my hi-tech cellphone….

Media :

It’s 6 am here and I’m listening to “Rewind” with M. Enright on Sirius.  Last night I watched “The Devil Wears Prada” on my not “full bouquet” dish TV.  The newspaper of choice, the Mail and Guardian, is a weekly and pretty good although I can’t make out all the corrupt politicians quite yet (kind of like reading the Times Picayune in N’awlins!).  But a lot of the headlines can be read just by walking down the street:



And postering is always a good way to disseminate information :

For golfers, I guess

For golfers, I guess

Ok, that’s it for today, folks.






Sponge Mammy


Sunday, June 8, 2014

This last week I have been sponging up information, meeting with various SHIs (Social Housing Institutions), their regulators and funders. And there’s more reading for me over the weekend!

Shopkeepers, bus drivers and dudes trying to sell me their wares have at times called me “Mammy”.  And I realize that I’ve only seen two other women with white hair. So I must be  seen as a really, really old woman…

Friday, the cold came in from Cape Town and we woke up to zero degrees. Turned on the heat and put on a flannel nightie. I was sure I’d packed gloves, but apparently not. Went later in the day to the second hand/cat rescue store, but only found a couple of scarves, which is good too. Here again is an attempt at showing some of the “bounty hunters”.


how many kitties?

Very different cold than Ottawa cold. Extremely dry. Had to get emergency lip balm and I’ll be looking for similar stuff at the goop shop around the corner.  Laundry dries in minutes flat, even overnight.  And that’s why there are clotheslines everywhere, even just outside my hotel door! Makes me happy…

Monday  I finally met some of my colleagues, notably the handsome John and the lovely Joan and spent a couple of days in the office. Our offices are at the front, 5th floor.

The lovely Joan

The lovely Joan

Handsome John

Handsome John

51Main Street

51Main Street

NASHO rents office space from the Johannesburg Housing Company (JHC), who bought this beautiful art deco building back when they were cheap(er). It’s in the old CBD part of town, which was abandoned during the 90’s, like lots of the downtown. There was a whole new BD built out far in the (Kanata North) area, called Sandton. So the head offices of Big Biz, the Stock Exchange, etc, moved out there and the downtown is now trying to reclaim some presence. Walking around during the day is very safe and there are cafés and banks and a Woolies (Woolworths, which here is all high-end stuff!) to buy yummy lunch and expensive groceries. But   after 5 pm it’s like the Sparks Street Mall.

Also on Monday, I met with folks from JHC. In some cases, it was a re-union, since I had met with some of them two years ago. Their ED, Elize Stroebel  arranged for a meeting at their office, one floor down from mine. Elize was joined by Aysha, their Finance Director and Lindy, who looks after their community development arm (a separate corporation that is set up as a charity and can receive donations).   JHC is possibly the most nimble and envelope-pushing of all the SHIs.  At 20 years old and almost 4,000 units, it calls itself a “Social Entrepreneur” and now does new development without gov’t assistance. They introduced some serious income mixing in order to achieve this, and now they are a bit vulnerable to accusations of not housing those most in need.

I had hopes that CCOC might have done an exchange with JHC a couple of years ago, and I still hope that might work. They are probably our mirror in S.A.  Committed to “place making” and trying to influence the shape of the City.

After the meeting, Boyce (Portfolio Officer) and Sabelo (Prop. Mgmt Specialist) took me to a couple of JHC sites. One was Brickfields, which I had visited in 2012 and the other was Umndeni Gardens, a 350 unit development that had been built as social housing some years ago, and then “highjacked” by some of the tenants/thugs. The powers (not sure who did this) put the complex out to public auction and JHC was the winning bidder. It took them three years to get an eviction order to clear the buildings so they could re-furbish and re-let them. As one can imagine, evictions are very difficult to get (legally, I mean) because of the legacy of apartheid. Anyway, JHC is now filling up the second phase of 3 and started work on the last portion.

Umndeni Gardens

Umndeni Gardens

There is a prevalent (and reasonable) fear of “rent strikes” here, and SHIs are not immune. Since everyone was promised a house after the dismantling of apartheid, some folks like to interpret that as not needing to pay rent. Or can be easily convinced by thugs who then take over (highjack) the building for their own profit. Also complicated by the fact that the biggest housing program is in fact free ownership homes (Called RDPs and referred to as “give aways”). So JHC’s community development arm is working on a “Pay by the First” campaign and struggling with finding a legal way to give tenants incentives.

On Tuesday I visited with two groups I had met with in 2012 and it was a bit of déja vu. My first visit was with Josie Adler in Hillbrow, a very interesting downtown neighbourhood. Josie was the instigator and driving force behind Ekhaya, a community development organization reclaiming this fragile area.

Josie and her successor (oops,forgot name...)

Josie and her successor (oops,forgot name…)

I also met with Chris Lund from Madulamoho Housing, one of the Hillbrow SHIs that works mainly with street folks.  They are also looking at doing some more income mixing and have even moved to setting up a satellite in Cape Town. Very strong organization, coming from the church-based sector.

Wednesday, almost free seniors’ bus day.  On Wednesday, Malcolm went to Cape Town, so I was on my own and bravely said I would take the bus to work. In theory, this is an easy commute, taking the bus right around the corner and getting off about 4 blocks from work, at Ghandi Square, a major Metrobus stop in the CBD.

After waiting from 7:40 to 8:55 am for a bus to come, I gave up, went back home and asked staff to call me a taxi. Mike, my new best friend, arrived about 30 minutes later and took me to Ghandi Square.  All told, I probably got to work at 10:30 or so. Undaunted, I decided to take the bus home. The lovely Joan and I went to the kiosk at noon, got a schedule and decided I should be at G.S. by 3:40 since the bus was scheduled for 3:55, with another one at 4:15 in case I missed the first. Well, neither came so a lovely young woman who lives in my neighb and works for OXFAM helped me choose another bus. Had a longer walk home, but it was ok.

The “almost free” comes from the bus driver asking me if I was an pensioner and then charging me R3.60 (36 cents CDN)!

So, for the next two days, I did a combo Mike/Metrobus to get to and from work. But pretty clear why you want a car if you’re here for any length of time.

Ghandi Square, 4pm

Ghandi Square, 4pm

Thursday I met with the money guys.  Social Housing here (like back home) is funded through capital dollars only. The amounts cover about 70% of the costs of building. This is a combination  of national (federal) and provincial dollars. I met with 3 different bureaucracies, each of which has a role to play. One of them, the Social Housing Regulatory Authority (SHRA) has an additional role of overseer, and there is a quite onerous and (to me) confusing accreditation program. The SHRA seemed interested in reviewing their m.o. and maybe looking at the Netherlands and Canadian experience through some kind of exchange.  They even have regulations in their office bathroom:



 It’s not all work and no play:

On my way home Friday, I stopped at the Standard Bank Art Gallery a few blocks from our offices and caught the last day of Mary Sibande’s show, “The Purple will Govern”.  The title “is derived from graffiti that appeared around Cape Town in 1989, after police sprayed protestors participating in an anti-apartheid march with purple dye….”



Also listening to CBC podcasts and watching really crappy B-movies on my free dish TV.

It for now, more later.











Did I say I might blog….


above the Lucky Bean

Arrived late Wednesday so Malcolm (my new boss/host, ED of NASHO) picked me up at the airport and we came to the 12Stars ( I crashed. My balcony is the one just above the green patio umbrella.

Malcolm gave me the “day off” on Thursday, so I had a lovely breakfast w/him at the Café de la Crême, then got a ride with Joshua from 12 Stars to the SPAR grocery store, where I bought my first SA jar of Hellman’s mayo (what is life without that, I ask?).  Spent the afternoon kicking around my neighbourhood and found a second hand and rescue cat store. They currently have 36 cats and the smell is a little overpowering, but a definitely fun and funky place. I bought some cheap wine glasses to go with my modest Cape white.

Friday was my first work day and the camera battery died, so no pixs.  The morning was spent in Maboneng, where a private developer (Propertuity) has purchased 38 buildings, a mix of old industrial and residential, retail/office. They have refurbished some and rebranded the area. The focus has been to set up an “arts district” but now they are seriously doing some residential and are interested in adding some social housing to the mix.

NASHO had arranged a meeting with some of their principals and staff. Malcolm and I were joined by three SHI folks: Elise from Johannesburg Housing Company, Neil from Madulamoho and Rory from JOSHCO. This was a very high level (who are you, who are we) kind of meeting, with a little walkabout. Interesting that Propertuity is currently building a school and park. The school is a private one, but will apparently be affordable to SHI tenants (…?)

After the meeting, Malcolm took me to the NASHO offices, my daytime home for the next year. The other staff were not there so I still have to meet my colleagues.We tried and failed to set up my NASHO email address, so we just had a long chat about the state of social housing in SA and Malcolm outlined some of the big pieces he’d like me to work on over the next year.

We then went back to Melville (Malcolm lives a block away from me when he’s in Joburg) and went to the cellphone store to get a new SIM card for my (très low tech) phone. I had delicious pizza at ANT on 7th and then crashed.

Saturday was another perfect day in Joburg. Blue skies, scudding clouds, not too hot/cold. I’m told this is unusual winter weather (after I packed all that silk underwear….) Walked west (thanks for the compass, Mike) on 4th Street to Main to pick up more groceries. On the way there I stopped at a church fair where there was face painting, a bouncy castle and afrikaner pancakes. They were celebrating May 31st (not sure why) On my route I got some advice about safaris:

good tip

good tip

This whole part of Melville reminds me a lot of N’awlins around Frenchmen Street. There was someone playing the trumpet last night and black guys hawking their metal sculptures to the tourists. But this really did it for me:

Frenchmen Street meets 4th Street

Frenchmen Street meets 4th Street

Got back home around noon and made myself a cheese omelet and tomato salad (thanks for the knife, Nicole!), which I enjoyed with the weekly Mail & Guardian.

brunch by me

brunch by me

Spent the afternoon reading work-related stuff and then at 4:30 I was picked up by Alison (a NASHO member who is now a consultant) and we went with her two doggies and a bunch of other dogs and their people to walk the Melville Koppies.

A view of downtown from the Melville Koppies

A view of downtown from the Melville Koppies

ORIENTATION: Before I left Nancy gave me a book called “Lost and Found in Johannesburg” (Thanks, Nancy) by Mark Gevisser. He grew up as a white, jewish, gay boy during the apartheid era. He was fascinated by maps and treasured a particular street guide called “Holmden’s Register of Johannesburg”.  Turned out Holmden had left out great swaths of the City, that being the areas where blacks lived. The maps would have big gaps, blank spaces between white neighbourhoods.

It’s a fascinating book on lots of levels, and as a compass carrier, I am also fascinated by orientation. Johannesburg is a city built around something you can’t see. It’s not near a body of water, or a mountain. The natural feature that brought people here is underground, in seams of gold.

So the orientation works by using two telcom towers, one downtown in Hillbrow and one in Auckland, nearer to where I am staying now.  You can see the Hillbrow tower in the distance in the Koppies picture above.

I will soon steel myself and rent a car, and that might be the most daunting part of this adventure for me.  What happens when I’m at the corner of 4th and 4th?

lost and found in Jozi

lost and found in Jozi


That’s it for now folks. More when time permits.