By Eamonn Ryan | All images by Eamonn Ryan
For The Parks Lifestyle Apartments in Riversands, the developer Century Property Developments (better known for upmarket developments) has taken many themes of its luxury estates and brought them to the inclusionary, affordable end of the market.
This Edge-certified (green residential certification system) development consists of 1 880 bachelor, one-, two- and three-bed apartments available only for rent in the fast-growing Riversands area, adjacent to Steyn City in Fourways. Rentals for units in the four-floor buildings range from R3 800 to R8 500/month. The development, 65% of which is funded by Nedbank and the balance by Century, boasts a secure gatehouse with biometric fingerprint access manned 24/7, while tenants benefit from a variety of free weekly activities and events for kids and adults. Communal facilities include walking paths, kids’ play parks, braai areas and sports fields; free WiFi in each apartment; and a clubhouse with swimming pool.
Century CEO Mark Corbett says The Parks takes its upmarket ‘Waterfall’ concept and makes it more affordable, with a school and clubhouse inside the estate, as well as the other abovementioned facilities. It can achieve affordability of such extras through the scale of the project. Free uncapped WiFi can be offered, for instance, because the number of units reduces the cost-per-unit to approximately R50/month – much lower than any individual resident could obtain, as the estate owns the fibre reticulation. This cost, as well as many others, is included in the monthly rental.
“The majority of the units run off solar power, as well as a sophisticated heat pump system. Another unique feature is a greywater system: the bath and shower outlets flow into a separate tank where it is cleaned and reused for irrigation. This is important because Joburg is going to run out of water just like Cape Town almost did, and these units consume about half the water that a normal house does,” says Corbett. Another Waterfall feature is that Century has its own nursery alongside the estate and landscapes all the common areas with low-water indigenous plants and trees.
The Edge certification means LED lights are used and buildings are orientated for maximum light and energy saving as far as possible. Corbett concedes Waterfall-style energy saving design elements are less easy to implement in a dense affordable housing scenario than spacious luxury homes, because buildings shade each other. It also installs aluminium windows and doors which are less draughty than steel. Apart from solar energy and heat pumps, ducts are designed so as to minimise the distance from heat pump to mixers, reducing heat loss, as well as reducing the potential for tampering and damage. All pipes are HDPE, he says, as plastic can handle greater pressure than copper.
Century commenced life as a pure developer but has since diversified into almost all aspects of construction, undertaking approximately 40% of all the work it develops, says Corbett. “That is mostly because we couldn’t get the quality we wanted.” What it doesn’t do is specialist construction work such as clinics, schools and malls.
Scope of work
The project commenced in January 2019, with a completion date of December 2020 – and approximately 600 (at the time of writing) units are complete and occupied. “The design requires that each block be different with a unique elevation to avoid it being a sea of buildings all looking the same.” There are drawing plans of nine different elevations which are intermingled: some with brick balustrades, some steel, some with sheet cladding, some with face-brick and others with stepped roofs. It doesn’t cost more, says Corbett, because it’s in the design phase.
This is a major differentiator from many affordable housing developments where every block is identical, making for an impersonal living space. Instead, The Parks aims to achieve a ‘village’ feel. Century across the road from the estate casts its own precast panels for the buildings enabling it to use bigger panel sizes because it does not have to be transported on public roads.
“Challenges in this type of development relate to the fact that you have to design the units with an end result in mind. However, the school is an integral component of the entire project but is only built mid- to late-project when there would be sufficient children to enrol. In the early stages, without a school, we find that the two-bedroom units all rent out but not the three-bedrooms. Initially this may appear to have been a design fault as there is an imbalance and too many three-bedroom units, but it evens out when the school is built (which is run as a normal fees-based school). Every development goes through a phase such as this, and we therefore don’t change the model to match sales.”
One of the unique features of the complex is its management of social behaviours. It has been found on other estates that children living there, out of boredom may get up to mischief, and Corbett explains that to address this kids’ afternoon classes will be held to keep them occupied after school. “For example, on a Monday we will have boot camp and soccer training; and thereafter each day, art classes, tennis, swimming and other activities.
“The security is high-spec, with thermal cameras on the periphery as well as internally, and in fact security is one of the main selling features of any estate today. This is because the further down the LSM scale you are, the more you are affected by crime.
“We use mostly community sub-contractors as nearby Diepsloot is a considerable resource of qualified trades, which we source through a community liaison officer. We have done a number of projects in the area and have consequently built up relationships and goodwill among the community and had none of the community forum disruptions that have affected many other construction projects around the country,” he says.
The rental market
Corbett believes the South African housing market will evolve towards rental. “People in South Africa are suffering from poor confidence and are not willing to take a long-term view by buying property. That is why we opted to make this a rental-only development – it suits the current market. In addition, the trend internationally is for people to increasingly rent homes rather than buy them: South Africa is behind the curve in this respect. Internationally, rental housing comprises about 30% of the total housing stock compared to just 2% locally. I’m expecting South Africa to follow the global trend,” says Corbett.
This particular development does not benefit from any government subsidy, though Century’s next development will – a social housing one in the R1 500 to R3 000/month rental range. Its market is a combination of aspirational people climbing out of RDP, social or gap housing, and families feeling the squeeze economically and downgrading. “Our market is somebody not yet able to afford to live in Fourways, but somebody lifting him/herself out of the subsidy housing range.” Corbett believes that ‘green-affordable’ will become a trend for the future, with the major limitation on more such projects being only the pace of getting town planning approvals. Medium-sized developer Century has, for example, been working on getting town planning authority for its social housing development in Linksfield for nine years.
“It is taking significantly longer to get approvals than it did three years ago.” Just as National Treasury has put the brakes on capital expenditure for fear of corruption, town planning authorities similarly are so conscious of corruption that processes have virtually ground to a halt. The demand for such developments in this price range certainly exists, he says. The Parks’ units are being marketed inhouse by Century using primarily online platforms. A lot of the applicants are people downgrading from Fourways where they’re paying R12 000 to R13 000/month to R8 500/month to get more for their money, due to economic pressure, with a high number of civil servants. This saving is augmented by the extras such as free internet, security and other benefits, saving on transport of children to school – “a significant amount of money,” says Corbett.
“Most people spend between R900 and R1 800 a month on school transport and aftercare. In our estates, there is just a gate between the housing and the school, and they can walk. There’s also a lifestyle issue related to this as people spend less time sitting in traffic.”
List of professionals:
- Developer: Century Property Developments
- Architect: Century Property Developments
- Civil Engineers: Century Property Developments
- Quantity Surveyor: Century Property Developments
- Structural Engineer: Struxit
- Plumbing fittings: Waterways