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Berea: Jozi's first residential CID
31 January 2008

Turnstiles and high security greet the tenants of Brian Miller's blocks

A property owner is turning Berea around, building by building. Brian Miller is determined to make residents feel the suburb is their own.

Berea is dominated by tall residential blocks
Berea is dominated by tall residential blocks

A SMALL central section of Berea is Johannesburg's first residential city improvement district (CID). It has a whole new identity - it is safe, clean and a pleasant place to live.

The CID has been driven by developer Brian Miller of Ithemba Property Trust. He has been working in Berea, to the east of the city centre, since November 2005 but in the broader area for 15 years.

Miller says he is driven by a desire to make a difference. "I only have one shot at the title," he says.

Since mid-2006 crime in Berea has dropped between 70 and 80 percent, he confirms. Berea's CID is called Legae la rona, which means "our place", and Miller has certainly made residents in Berea feel it is "their place".

"The only way forward is to normalise the situation and get quality of life for our tenants."

Traditionally a suburb lumped together with the grimy and overcrowded Hillbrow, its neighbour, this section of Berea is now clean and there are some 16 guards in evidence on the street corners. CCTV cameras on street corners are on the cards, in consultation with the City. The CID consists of seven blocks, running from Barnato Street in the north to Olivia Road in the south, bordered by Fife Avenue in the west and Lily Avenue in the east.

"It is easier to work in an identifiable area, then move on," Miller explains. There are plans to create the next CID in Berea south, then Berea north, and eventually encompass Yeoville and Hillbrow. He expects this process of turning all suburbs into CIDs to take up to 10 years.

Over a dozen CIDs have been established around the city, the most successful being in Braamfontein and Main Street in the inner city. Further afield there are CIDs in Sandton, Rosebank, Illovo, Wynberg, Kramerville and Randburg. But these are all in business areas, not residential areas.

Declaring an area a CID means that, in addition to the normal municipal services like street cleaning and grass cutting, street guards will patrol, picking up litter and reporting any problems or loitering. The CID management body also undertakes to remove graffiti, landscape public places and trim trees. These services are paid for by the property owners.

Three-phase attack

Trees and clean streets make Berea a desirable place to live
Trees and clean streets make Berea a desirable place to live

Miller's approach is a three-phase attack: to get buildings clean and manageable; to get public open spaces, including alleyways, clean and welcoming; and to bring services back. These include shopping centres, coffee bars and internet cafes.

He works closely with City Parks, Pikitup and City Power, through which complaints are channelled and action taken to remedy any problems. The South African Police Service has also come on board, raiding shebeens in the area.

The Johannesburg Development Agency is responsible for overseeing these revamps.

Miller also acknowledges the role of Poma, the Property Owners' and Managers' Association, "a partnership of strategic stakeholders to upgrade areas". That upgrading includes details like street lighting, cutting the grass and making sure streets are clearly signposted.

The Metropolitan

The Metropolitan, refurbished with 402 units
The Metropolitan, refurbished with 402 units

Miller has his base in The Metropolitan, a large residential block of some 402 units, with 1 000 tenants, on Alexandra Street. Described by him as being in a "very poor condition" four years ago, it is now spotless, with 24-hour security and, most importantly for it to work, a fingerprint system of entry. This ensures that only tenants enter the building.

And although the foyer looks a little like a jail, with turnstiles and gates blocking the entrance, tenants are assured of their security.

The Metropolitan has studio flats and one-and-a-half bedroom flats. A strict requirement is that only three people are allowed to rent each flat, Miller explains. Rents range from R1 500 to R3 000 and thorough profile checks are done on prospective tenants.

Miller owns seven blocks in Berea, with a total of 1 000 units. "We have a responsibility to ensure who is in the buildings." And all his buildings are fully rented.

"Our buildings are cleaner than Sandton - the floors shine, you could eat off them," he smiles.

Each building has a building manager, all of whom have been trained in first aid and fire-fighting. He also employs his own maintenance team, and in all has created 200 jobs.

Rand Executive

Rows of caged washing in the courtyard of the Rand Executive
Rows of caged washing in the courtyard of the Rand Executive

Colin Cindi is the building manager of Miller's Rand Executive, a residential block of 91 units on the corner of Alexandra Street and Tudhope Avenue. He also lives in the block with his two children.

He walks around with a walkie-talkie, explaining that no parties and no drinking are allowed in the building, a stipulation in the lease that tenants sign. He points to the caged washing lines in the courtyard. "Everyone has a time when they hang out their washing, which they lock behind the gates."

This means that there is no theft of laundry and, more importantly, that there is no washing hanging from balconies, something that always makes a building look untidy, besides breaking the City's by-laws. Miller fines tenants R50 if they hang washing on their balconies.

"There is life in Berea," Cindi concludes.

Miller is optimistic that these areas, long neglected and overrun, will be turned around. "We are not in a perfect world yet, but we are getting there."

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