Letter from JPOMA Chairman

JPOMA Chairman, Nic Barnes has circulated a letter to share decisions and actions taken at Jozi Housing.

“Good Morning All,

We find ourselves in uncharted waters this week as we grapple with the COVID19 crisis. While there is a medical crisis possibly about to unfold, we also find ourselves in a financial crisis as the effects of the measures imposed by the government on Sunday night start to take effect, but driven too by the irrational reaction of the populace in many ways. 

At this stage we do not know what we do not know and whatever the final outcome is, whether the current situation is justified or not, perception is reality and we find ourselves having to deal with the situation as we find it. This task is made more difficult by the volume of information and news (some true and useful, but much of it hype and fake) which serves to escalate the feeling of panic and hopelessness the nation is feeling.

One of the things we can do is to share information and learnings, and to assist our colleagues and tenants where ever we can. It is in this spirit that I thought it would be useful to share with you the measures Jozi Housing has and is taking to deal with the situation:

Firstly, while the problem is complex, we believe that the response should be simple. We are advocating that three simple steps are taken to reduce transmission. What we need to ensure is that these actions are taken as widely as possible and are done thoroughly and consistently.

The three things are:

  • Personal Hygiene: wash hands regularly and limit contact with commonly used surfaces (hand rails, lift buttons, door handles, light switches, etc.)
  • No contact with others: no hand shaking, hugging, etc.
  • Distancing and isolation: reduce contact with others as far as possible

We believe that if these three things are done thoroughly, the risk of transmission is reduced by about 80%.

There is no doubt that the high density environment in which we operate presents significant risks for the transmission of the disease; from taxi ranks and trains through to our buildings themselves. We believe, though, that these buildings present an opportunity which many other residential properties do not: they have one, or perhaps two, entrances. The fact that we have entrance lobbies through which all tenants pass presents us with the ability to create a barrier to the disease by focusing disinfecting operations in this area of the buildings, specifically finger print readers and lift buttons. It also presents an opportunity to communicate with and educate tenants about the actions they should be taking. We have dedicated one general worker to the entrance lobbies of the larger buildings and their instructions are for constant cleaning and disinfecting of the area, with specific attention being paid to the access control readers and lift cars. They are also tasked with raising awareness and disseminating educational material.

Our building managers and general workers are the front line of the business and we have no option but for them to continue as such. The main thrust of mitigating risk with this portion of the staff is to make sure that the principles outlined above are carried out meticulously. Secondly is to assist these staff (indeed, all staff) with the knowledge to recognize possible infections, both in themselves and in others. Isolation and testing are obviously the next phase. 

We are using all forms of media to communicate with tenants and staff. We are keeping the messages simple and frequent.

Moving to our head office, this is the nerve centre of our operation and cannot be shut down. So how do we mitigate the risk:

·      Re-enforcing the personal hygiene actions highlighted above.

·      All non-essential meetings are postponed. Where meetings do have to be held, the number of people should be kept to a bare minimum and the meetings should be as brief as possible.

·      We have split the head office staff into  two groups and these groups will alternate days in the office. This does a number of things:

o   It’s primary advantage is that it splits the critical functions of the head office into two distinct groups. Should a member of one of the groups be diagnosed, the result will be the quarantining of the remainder of that team. In this instance, we have a “B” team able to continue with the operations.

o   Work from home: where possible, staff members are being encouraged to work from home. We have equipped those who are able to do so with the necessary gear (laptops and connectivity). Admin staff will have work delivered to them if the live nearby, alternatively they will come into the office a couple of times a week to collect new work and deliver completed work.

o   By splitting the head office team in half, we reduce the amount of time people are travelling. We believe that public transport presents a significant risk for the transmission of the disease.

o   We have erected very simple glass screens which are being placed on the desk between staff and clients. This is happening at Letting, Credit and Reception.

o   All interactions with clients or other outside people will be limited and where they do take place, they will be restricted to specific areas, which can be more easily kept sanitary.

Turning to the scenario of when a tenant in a building tests positive (which we believe is only a matter of time), we have run a bunch of scenarios and the conclusion we have come to is that we are highly unlikely to even know if this is the case (the extent to which we as South Africans attach stigma to diseases leads us to believe that we are highly unlikely to be informed of such an infection). However, we are also of the view that the actions taken would not differ from those being put in place to limit transmission, specifically isolation. The reality is that the financial imperative from many of our tenants is such that even if they are ill, they will not get tested (for fear of the consequences, like being admitted and quarantined) and are likely to continue to go to work (for fear of losing the work). To our mind this underlines the need for constant and thorough implementation of the three steps above.

Above all, we believe that this is the time for cool heads and clear thinking. We are of the view that more information will be at hand by the end of the week and we will have moved through the first two steps of crisis reaction: shock (Monday) and greed (panic buying of the last two days). Once these accepted psychological steps are passed, our humanity will return and so will some clear thinking. 

This is first and foremost a human crisis and we need to bear this in mind at all times. The economic fall is going to be great, for sure, but we need to be aware of the fact that the poor, the elderly and the immune compromised people are going to be hardest hit. I would urge all of us to be mindful of this at all times during the coming weeks and months.

I hope this information helps and please feel free to call me if you have any questions.

Be safe, be smart and be kind.

Yours Faithfully

Nic Barnes”