No home sweet
07/06/2009 The Star By HARIATI AZIZAN and RASHVINJEET S. BEDI
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
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
“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.
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
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
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
“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
Arumugam says one major problem is that many are not eligible for bank
“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