The transformation of City Deep hostel, where as many as 14 men once crammed into a single room, was shown off to the media yesterday.
"It was dirty, it was unhygienic and it was unclean," said Johannesburg social housing company (Joshco) chief executive Rory Gallocher.
City Deep's history goes back to the 1930s when it was built for workers of the Garzoni mine. By the 1970s the mine had long gone bust and the hostel was used to house municipal workers. At that time, sun-blanched walls of concrete and brick corralled workers into narrow walkways and cramped, ill-lit rooms.
Perhaps worst of all, the hostel - like so many others - was single sex, meaning that men arriving in Johannesburg to find work often had to give up living with their families.
But since 2005, City Deep has been undergoing R148million renovations to transform it into affordable housing units for families. Today, where once there were only male municipal workers, children play in the sun and women clean their husband's shoes on stoeps.
"We wanted to transform this hostel so that you'll never recognise it as a hostel." Aaron Tibe, an employee of Pikitup, has lived at City Deep for 18 years, almost all of those years away from his family.
Since the changes at City Deep, Tibe now lives with his wife and four children and has even began buying his own furniture - something unlikely in the days of his hostel dwelling.
Colbert Mphaphuli, a metro cop who has lived in the hostel for 26 years, has also set up a proper home with his wife who has joined him from Limpopo.
Housing manager James Maluleke said initially it had been difficult to get support for the renovations because the negative connotations with hostels meant potential funders were reluctant to get involved.
"We said forget that the land used to be a hostel. Think of it as a piece of land," Maluleke said.
Around 275 rooms have been completely renovated and are currently housing between 500 and 600 people. All of the rooms are either one or two bedrooms and monthly rent is kept at a below-market R830 to R1300.
Joshco aims to complete a total of 654 rooms by the time the project concludes. City Deep hostel lies between Johannesburg and Alberton and is only a few kilometres from the central business district. - Sapa