A community of about 300 households in Pepper Estate on Penang Island is facing an uncertain future after it emerged that the land they are living on has been quietly sold to a developer.

The estate was opened up in the late 1960s for people to build their houses and it was run by the Eow Thoon (deceased) Estate.

Although the houses belong to the residents, the land itself belonged to the estate, and each household had to pay around RM40 monthly in ground rent to the estate.

But a land search revealed that the estate sold the land to Beverly Heights Properties Sdn Bhd and the sale was registered with the land office on 23 May 2012.

The estate stopped collecting ground rent by the end of 2012.

Now worried residents have received some kind of letter from lawyers.

“Many of us built our homes with a high degree of trust and hope that our continued possession of the land would remain undisturbed,” said one resident. “Pepper Estate has been like a safety valve for the lower socio economic sector, providing affordable housing with easy access to urban facilities. Residents work hard to make ends meet and are grateful we have no bank mortgages to grapple with.”

This is a community that integrates and supports the disabled, the low-income groups as well as extended families with a significant number of senior citizens well into their 70s and 80s for whom Pepper Estate has been home for the past 40 years, said the resident.

“What happens when a community of 300 homes, with over 1000 residents, is dismantled? With a compensation of RM 40,000 or thereabouts, what can residents buy in Penang? The purchase of low cost apartments will require bank loans which many may not succeed in obtaining.”

Added to their plight is the worry of how their extended families will be accommodated in a small space of 650-700 sq ft. Like most rapidly diminishing kampungs on Penang Island, the village house has provided for the well-being of extended families under one roof.

The residents have petitioned the state government. In particular, they are asking for a 12-month moratorium on any house demolition starting from the date of negotiation for vacant possession of the land. This will stop the developer from immediately and sporadically demolishing houses as they gain vacant possession. For the residents still trying to negotiate, they do not need to be subjected to a distressed environment filled with demolition debris.

In their petition, the residents noted:

‘Green’ Penang is also about housing preservation and conservation of resources. Pepper Estate (alongside other endangered villages; Hong Seng Estate, the Chinese village of Tanjung Tokong) represents the architecture and character of lower income homes built in the 1970s. Not historical when compared to Georgetown but still complete communities with shared values. There is simplicity of architecture, distinctiveness in layout, a good physical infrastructure, and generally a low impact on both the physical and visual landscape. It is sympathetic to the surrounding state forest. The homes are well-ventilated without the need for energy draining air conditioners. Certainly Pepper Estate as it stands is not a drain on the physical resources nor does its carbon footprint reach anywhere near that of the new concrete, high-end developments.

Meanwhile, the residents are seeking the assistance of their local elected reps.

Will another community have to make way for expensive high-end property development? ‘Development’ for whom?