When Mary Mangema (not real name) came into the city of Johannesburg looking for work, a better life and a future, she was fearful of what she would find. Whilst in so many ways a place of opportunity, Johannesburg is also a city that has a reputation as one of the toughest places in the world. On arrival she set about trying to find a place to stay and on advice from friends she sought and found a flat managed by a non-profit social housing institution, the Johannesburg Housing Company (JHC). In the process Mary found an environment quite different from what she expected. She found a caring and trustworthy landlord. And she found it in the heart of an inner city characterized by high levels of alienation and social pathology.
A few months after arrival Mary became ill and had to go into hospital for a few weeks. As a result she was unable to make her rent payments. When the JHC investigated the arrears they found a tenant in distress, but they did not seek to evict her summarily. As a first measure, the financial department helped her set up a stop order which freed her from having to go into a bank to make a deposit every month. Because Mary had the reserves to sustain payments through her illness the stop order arrangement solved the rent payment issue. But she received other help as well. When she returned home but was still confined to bed, Mary's shopping was taken care of by JHC staff, and she was visited regularly. The JHC helped Mary get through a difficult period, and she is today a good and reliable tenant.
The assistance Mary received was not just because her case was handled by a sympathetic official of the JHC who made an exception. Talking to tenants in arrears is one of JHC's standard procedures. Client contact usually starts with the housing supervisor who is alerted on a monthly basis by credit control and who will remind the tenant that s/he is in arrears. A community development officer will also visit the tenant to help understand the reasons the tenant is in arrears. As a matter of procedure the community development officer submits a monthly report on visits to tenants in arrears and makes recommendations to JHC management on how to handle difficult circumstances.