Inner City Savvy - Trafalgar report gives the inner city a big thumbs up

Durban's inner city had largely escaped the degeneration that has bedevilled Johannesburg and Cape Town, with rentals doubling over the past five years, and flagship developments such as uShaka and the Point precinct driving up property prices on the fringe of the central business district.

Inner City Savvy: Investment in the inner city has paid off for investors despite the fact that some of these areas were previously red-lined by banks.

These were some of the optimistic findings of research contained in the 2006 Trafalgar Inner City Report. Dubbed Princes and Paupers, the annual snapshot of South Africas inner cities showed that although the Durban CBD still had some dodgy areas, innovative eThekwini Municipality-led programmes like the Sectional Title Management Training Project were keeping the problems in check.

Some B-grade office accommodation had undergone rudimentary conversions to workhousetype residences and small family rooms portioned off with chipboard walls, but the council was vigilant in monitoring landlords in these and other sectional title buildings. Typical inner city dwellers were single men in their 20s with more than 70% moving to the area in the past two years and 80% using public transport. Monthly inner city rentals in Durban ranged from R900 for a bachelor flat to R2500 for a three bedroom apartment.

Trafalgar Chairman Neville Schaefer said downtown Durban, like similar areas in other South African cities, reflected the growing demand for living and working within the same geographic space. Tenants were savvier and owners were reaping the rewards for property investments in areas previously marginalised by bank redlining.

The levels of upkeep have improved as owners show pride in their investments, thus diminishing the decay too often associated with inner city living. Property remains a key investment holding, and that phenomenon is now being reflected in the inner cities, Schaefer said. He said inner city rentals were touching R1800 for a one-bedroom flat against the R800 these investments commanded when Trafalgar produced the inaugural Inner City Report in 2001.

One of the challenges raised by the increased gentrification of inner cities was that it was becoming increasingly difficult for poorer people to find accommodation close to job opportunities, hence the workhouse phenomenon. While the demand brings with it long-awaited impetus for renewal, it also has the effect of moving the problems of accommodating the poor in decent homes, Schafer said.

As the report points out, Durban municipal leaders were particularly mindful of this problem and had plans to tackle it through a densification programme that would mix income groups in redeveloped precincts to remove the pressure from the CBD. It quotes Richard Dobson, who heads eThekwinis inner city regeneration programme, iTrump: Densification of the city is not only about houses, but a full range of economic participants including shops, entertainment venues, schools and parks. What is the balance? We need to look into the prospects of mixing people from different income levels in a symbiotic relationship.

Trafalgar is a Durban based property management and financial services company. Its current portfolio covers 60 000 residential units in 1 200 buildings nationally and more than a million square metres of commercial and industrial premises in the countrys major metropolitan centres.

Author Alan Cooper

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