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No home sweet home

Twenty-seven years later and still waiting for their low-cost homes. Housing is still very much a major problem among the urban poor and a comprehensive, long-term solution has to be found.

FOR the last few years, the daily worry for Siti Solehah has been fear that she will be evicted from her home in Kampung Chubadak, Gombak.

Siti, or Kak Wan as she is known in the neighbourhood, has been living in her husband’s 40-year-old family home for more than two decades.

Uphill battle: Siti is fighting for her right to stay on in the squatter house occupied by her husband’s family for over 40 years.

“His family was one of the early squatters here but our kampung was earmarked for development in the late 1980s. We have been fighting for our right to stay since,” she says.

The land, however, belongs to the Government and although the villagers have a right to the land under the law, they have no ownership rights.

Still, the concern of the villagers is more than mere sentimentality.

“On top of losing our way of life and culture, we have not been offered any real guarantee of new housing. The compensation offered to us was RM10,000, which has now been reduced to RM8,000. How can we make a new start with that?” she laments.

Her worry is shared by many other squatters who have been or are being forced to relocate.

In 1984, the Kuala Lumpur Structure Plan was set into motion to reduce squatters in the city.

By 1998, half of the city’s squatter population was already evicted from their “illegal” homes and uprooted to Government-built high-rise flats or longhouse settlements. By 2003, the squatter population in Kuala Lumpur stood at 115,504, from 233,109 in 1980.

The Housing Ministry then adopted a “Zero-squatter by 2005” plan. Since then, many more have been languishing in temporary or “transit” public housing while waiting for their promised new house to materialise. The zero-squatter plan has been extended to 2010 and it is estimated that there are more than 6,500 longhouses in the city.

The longhouses at Jinjang Utara which hold more than 7,000 people is one such community. When they moved into their transit homes in 1992, they were told by City Hall that they would be offered low cost flats within six months to two years. It has been almost 17 years now.

The residents, who were originally squatters from various parts of the city, were forced to move to the longhouses after City Hall announced that they had to make way for development, including the construction of new housing schemes.

The longhouses at Jinjang Utara now stand out like an eyesore amid the newer, modern high rises. There are 60 longhouses, with approximately 10 units in each.

The houses measure only 4.8m by 7.3m with squalid living conditions. Most roofs leak and there are even complaints of asbestos being used as material for the houses.

Many like Wong Ngen Kuan, who is in her 70s, have even moved to two different transit homes in the area while waiting for their new homes.

“We were living in Block A for almost 10 years when they asked us to move to a new block of longhouses because they wanted to build new low-cost houses on the site. They promised that we would get one each but the project was abandoned. We have been staying in the second longhouse for seven years now, “ says Wong.

M. Arumugam, vice-president of the Persatuan Masyarakat Selangor & Wilayah Persekutuan (Permas) and a resident of the area, says no plans had been made for the Jinjang Utara longhouses in the Draft Kuala Lumpur City Plan 2020.

“Our housing area turned out to be a blank on the maps of the plans. We don’t know what is going to happen to us.”

Sadly, Jinjang Utara is not the only longhouse settlement with this problem; longhouse communities from Taman Tun Dr Ismail and Sri Segambut have waited for 27 years and 22 years respectively for low-cost flats.

New hope

Housing and Local Government Minister Datuk Seri Kong Cho Ha recently gave an assurance that the Government is looking into improving the living environment for lower income groups.

“Building affordable housing is not just the delivery of dwelling units, but the whole package of the living environment,” Kong was quoted as saying.

The Government has also allocated most of the RM1.4bil from the economic stimulus packages for Syarikat Perumahan Negara Sdn Bhd (SPNB), the housing unit of the Ministry of Finance, to deliver some 32,000 low-cost homes in Malaysia through various housing programmes.

Permas president Tan Jo Hann says the national low-cost housing initiative needs to be developed into a more comprehensive, long-term programme to meet the needs of those from the lower income group.

He highlights that the construction of low-cost housing schemes was a government initiative established in 1982. It stipulated that 30% of all private housing projects had to be allocated for the construction of low-cost houses.

This was seen as a social obligation by the developers to complement the efforts of the Government to provide affordable housing for all based on a cross subsidising scheme devised by the Government.

Many developers, however, did not follow the Government policy, argues National House Buyers Association secretary-general Chang Kim Loong.

“Developers claim that they lose profits when they build low-cost houses even though the Government has provided assistance such as lower premium, tax incentives and free land,” he says, stressing that developers have to accept that a cross subsidy scheme is not profitable.

Allegations of corruption

Chang believes that pressure from housing developers is a big problem.

“I think the Government is not committed enough to housing for the poor because of pressure from developers. There are allegations of corruption and fear of losing business. But housing developers have apparently shown more inclination to catering only for the middle and higher-end priced houses, which give hefty profits unlike low-cost houses that have low profit margins,” he says.

Tan, who has been working with the urban poor for the past 20 years, agrees that government schemes of low-cost housing for sale in Kuala Lumpur city are not sufficient.

“Private low-cost housing schemes are also usually delayed because housing developers are reluctant to build these houses as they are considered not profitable. As a result, the construction of low-cost houses is usually delayed.

“Meanwhile, squatters or longhouse dwellers are pressured to move out because there are other construction projects demanding the land they are living on,” he notes.

Worse, he adds, local governments are usually not sympathetic to the people’s plight and seem to be siding with the developers.

“It has been the practice for local authorities to move squatters out of their settlements by saying that the land would be used to build low-cost units and that they would be given priority to buy units there. But it has also been a trend for them not to keep their promises.

“They have been burnt too many times and do not trust the authorities to keep their promise in providing them new homes,” he says.

Tan argues that the Government needs to consult these low wage earners to find out what they need.

One current problem is a mismatch between supply and demand, he says.

Although there is a shortage of low-cost housing, many do not seem to be interested in buying the low-cost houses that are already available. In Selangor for example, there are still about 40,000 units up for sale but they are not taken up.

“The Government needs to look into why this is happening. Is it because the location is not strategic, the houses are of bad quality or there is not enough financial support for the poor, especially the older generation?”

Arumugam says one major problem is that many are not eligible for bank loans.

“In the case of Jinjang Utara, the delay in the housing project has rendered them ineligible for loans now. Maybe when they first moved they could qualify for a loan but now most of them are too old to be considered,” he adds.

To be fair, the Housing and Local Ministry started a housing loan scheme for the low-income earners recently but the demand is very high.

Tan says those who are eligible for a loan and can afford it, feel that they might as well add another RM10,000 for a medium-cost house in a better location instead of buying a low-cost house at RM42,000 to RM50,000.


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