Maintenance challege for low-income housing


The biggest challenge for low-cost housing in the country – apart from actually building enough low-cost homes – is the maintenance of these blocks.

The effectiveness of the maintenance depends on:

  • the level of community solidarity (including an accountable residents committee),
  • income levels (the pressure of contributing to maintenance when wages can barely keep up with the cost of living) and
  • household debt (which has been rising).

This article from theSun:

HDB flair for our public housing
Posted on 1 March 2012 – 04:57am

Himanshu Bhatt

IN October 2009, I had penned in this column my impressions about the state of public housing, citing the foul and decrepit conditions of most residential estates meant for low-income earners.

I had pointed to the Pekeliling flats whose shabby high-rise blocks had stood in ugly contradiction to the modern Kuala Lumpur skyline. There were others like the Kampung Melayu and Rifle Range flats in Ayer Itam, and the Bagan Dalam flats in Butterworth. Most were in such deplorable condition that they required immense physical overhauls – from paint jobs, to pipe and tile replacements, to complete wiring changes.

In particular, maintenance was wanting. Garbage chutes were filthy, lifts commonly in disrepair, clogged drains, rotten pipes and strewn litter. The designs of the buildings seem to have catered more for volume than for healthy living conditions. Natural lighting and air circulation within public passageways were usually poor, and there were far too little recreational facilities and sites.

Is it any wonder that there has been a stigma associated with low-cost housing in Malaysia? And I had wondered aloud how our public housing could have fallen to such shameful levels when, in contrast, Singapore’s mass housing system has been made to work so well.

Indeed, with public housing under the purview of the Housing and Development Board (HDB), low-cost houses in Singapore are characterised by a high degree of cleanliness, community programmes, regular planting and pruning of trees, and meticulous infrastructure.

Well, the Penang government raised some eyebrows last month when it announced that a former division of the HDB had been enlisted to design and help maintain the state’s most ambitious public housing programme yet – the RM2.7 billion Bandar Cassia Affordable Housing Scheme.

Targeted to house a population of 250,000 on what is now sprawling virgin land in Batu Kawan, the project will use the services of Surbana Corporation Pte Ltd, the former building and development division of the HDB.

It would adopt the same eco-friendly and sustainable living features used for acclaimed HDB projects in Singapore. Boasting an impressive man-made river, it would have recreational facilities and amenities never before included in low-cost and low-medium-cost projects in Malaysia.

Indeed, the HDB is said to have the best record for affordable housing in the world. “Why imitate the best when we can bring in the very best?” Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng said during the ground-breaking ceremony and unveiling of the designs.

The Batu Kawan project is centred around a 2km “Community Green Spine” with some 40 acres of land with parks and lakes. Bus stops and amenities would be within three minutes walking distance from any residential block.

There will also be sports facilities like badminton courts, swimming pools, football fields and tennis courts. And each phase will be gated and guarded with smart card access systems and secured lift lobbies.

It may sound like a luxury condominium project, and deservedly so. Why should our citizens be deprived of essential facilities, cleanliness and services, just because they are from a lower strata of society?

There was of course expected criticism that the state had entrusted a foreign neighbour. But why should this be a problem when Singaporean companies are being welcomed to invest in the Iskandar region in Johor?

In fact the state government has drawn up a five-year master plan to repair and revitalise its existing 42 public housing estates. But as it was doing this, it hit a rut when it was unable to implement the newly gazetted State Housing Board which would be crucial for its plans to promote and spawn affordable housing.

The board was set up through an enactment passed by the state assembly in 2010. But a special committee to study higher level posts in the federal government decided to postpone appointing any civil service positions in the board, effectively putting it in limbo.

So the advent of a Singaporean HDB-style system and vision must serve as a bold, fresh shake-up of our public housing sector. For in Lim’s own words, “we don’t want to give our people boxes, we want to give them homes.”

Himanshu is theSun’s Penang bureau chief. Comments: [email protected]

Apart from the problem of mainteance, we should think twice about introducing gated communities for public housing on what is former public or state-owned land.

Gated communities manifest a number of tensions: between exclusionary tensions rooted in fear and protection of privilege and the values of civic responsibility; between the trend toward the privatisation of public services and the ideals of the public good and general welfare; and between the need for personal and community control of the environment and the dangers of making outsiders of fellow citizens. (Snyder and Blakely, 1999:3″

City, Society, and Planning: City
By Ashok K. Dutt, Baleshwar Thakur, University of Akron. Dept. of Geography & Planning, Association of American Geographers. Regional Development and Planning Specialty Group

Gated communities promote the idea of separation and insecurity. In an egalitarian and just world, which we must work towards, there would be little need for such segregation.

We need to identify the root causes fuelling a sense of alienation, deprivation and marginalisation (income inequality being one of them).

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To be fair, I think LGE is doing very well under prsent circumstances and his plan has merits. People need to understand that when you provide affordable housing or low cots housing , where does the funds come from? Do we ask the rich and middle income to subsidise the poor? This was the logic for many decades when developers had to build low cost housing when they develop property. Apart from that, can depend only on the govt. Where does the govt get income? Should we allow govts to spend recklessly on social programs and become like Greece? There… Read more »

ong eu soon

Remember Bersih 2.0? Remmeber the hu ha about how the Bersih 2.0 turn out to be? Why not write something abhe truth is majority of social activists who have witness the Lynas Demo, although encouraged by the big turn out also find it hard to swallow that the Malay is no longer the majority in the demo. Without Malay support PR has no single chance of survival. If I am Anwar, I will worry sick and contemplate what to do next to bring back the Malay crowd. If I am ah jib ko, I will not hesitate to call for… Read more »

ong eu soon

LGe’s housing policy is a big disaster. LGe only caters for the rich not the poor. Just look at the numbers of luxury condos that have been built or being build and compare with the number of low cost housing, you can safely concluded that LGe is only for the rich. To build a RM70,000 flat at Batu Kawan and call it affordable is big insult to the intelligent of the people. A flat not matter what you call it and costing more than RM70,000 in the main land is definitely not cheap. All LGe want is money, money,money. Ya.… Read more »


LGE must be photstating money for less than 3 years the state government from being in red and now in black. When did the state government turn into a business man like 1 malaysian shops building and selling apartments? How come all those rich MCA?Gerakan?UMNO members start to buy and invest in Penang? Where do all those rich people come from?


Not only corruption but also rule and divide by theAMNO?MCA?Gerakan Government. Now People not see see themselves as malaysians but prefer to live in malay, chinese and Indian areas or blocks because of FEAR created by the present Federal Government. Also religions comes in where inviting one can subject to being said as influencing.

semuanya OK kot

The high demand for low-cost housing is due to CORRUPTION and bigotry: rising income inequality due to unequal opportunity and suppressed wages. The shortage of low-cost housing is due to CORRUPTION: failure to enforce the quota required of housing developers, failure to prioritise funds (for state-built houses, as opposed to more “profitable” projects) and misappropriation of built houses. The deterioration of low-cost housing is due to CORRUPTION: certifying houses of apalling quality, failure to enforce repairs, failure to allocate funds for repair (for state-owned houses, as opposed to more “profiable” projects), and failure to collect dues from tenants who can… Read more »

Andrew I

Do an assessment for yourself. Look at all the formerly desirable properties from the nineties. Non cooperation in payment of maintenance fees will result in the deterioration of any category of property.

On a brighter note, there are some well maintained properties. If only people could give the same wax and polish to their surrounding areas as they do to their cars.

Only in Penang can you see such spotless cars and in such great numbers on the roads.

car fanatic

penagites (especially the 20-30’s) prefer cars than a house (can rent or stay with parents) because cars are means to attract girlfriends who can become spouses if not for one night stand (mutual fun).

if anil can start blogging about cars; i am sure he can add more revenues with more hits as young people simply love cars / girls / boys.

i fancy toyota prius c hybrid car at RM97K – a price older folks will not fork out as they prefer to buy affordable houses with that sum of money.

car fanatic

Hpefully you have more more hits now we talk super cars in Penang

i help you pull in more readers; and hopefully these car loving readers also become conscious of social issues in penang/msia reading your blog.

and SOON they will love LGE (no pun intended).

Andrew I

A friend once opined of bungalows in a certain area: (the going price of a unit at the time) for that? It looks more like a slum. Have you seen how close they are?

With our scarcity of land coupled with the greed of developers, even the wealthy aren’t spared. Also, notice new dhobis spring up in upscale developments with white linen sheets, bras and panties swaying n the breeze under the hot tropical sun.

Is there a distinction after a while?

Plain Truth

A sad sign of the times. Increasing crimes or the perception of it are driving KLnites to form guarded communities to protect their homes. Penang is following in the same direction.

Statistics also show that gated properties in KL appreciated more in the last 7 years than non-gated ones, hence the move by developers in the direction of the former.


A sad sign of diminishing neighborliness Malaysian style into rich & famous selfish me, and a profitable trend for the developers to build at unaccountable higher price.
Reality or perception of crime is up to us and the gomen to overcome instead of being manipulated by fear motivated by commercial interests.

Pretty Obvious

When it comes to the safety of their loved ones, most people are willing to pay more.


I can’t all these nonsense being talked off here. Singapore housing may be public housing BUT its not low-cost housing. From the start, they made sure people who moved in could afford it. If they could not pay, they were evicted. In other words, its affordable housing, not low-cost. HDB from the start managed a complex and highly personally intrusive management system – rules about maintenance, personal conduct. If you break them, you had to pay or evicted or even jailed by the police. The first fundamental problem with low-cost housing in the end is about income and equity –… Read more »


You are right. I have seen very rich people who buy up low cost flats and then rent them out to others. I have seen people with mercedes and astro own low cost flats. I have seen people with 3 cars parked outside their flats. Enforcement is a must. If these people can’t pay the bill, don’t have astro. Its that simple. If they qualify to buy the house, they must not rent it out to others. Either live in it or give it to others who want to do so. Also, such flats such be mandatorily managed by the… Read more »


It all boils down to attitude & mentality. Either you take care of your apartment common areas like lifts, foyers, rubbish chutes, gardens and landscaping or you just create filth, vandalism and decay in every space. The lower income group may come from the less beautified section of society where grace, cultured behavior and public hygiene are alien concepts / practice. But it still behooves them to act for the betterment of their abodes. Otherwise no amount of tax payers money can continually be spent justifiably on maintaining their housing while the tidak apa attitude continues. SingKahPoh loves gated community… Read more »


yes, betul, it all boils down to our attitude and mentality. But sadly, the large part of Malaysians have tiada apa attitude even among the educated.

And worst, the so-called animal lovers, they let loose of their pets, they didnt pick up the poops of their dogs and they let their cats roaming around, doing business in the neighbours’ gardens…

Andrew I

I do, Kee. I have tissue and paper bag in hand when walking the dog. Nobody asked you to have a pet. If you had a baby, don’t you change the nappy…or do you expect it to do it?


Andrew, i hope everyone is like you.

I love animals too. Used to keep 2 golden retrievers in the house, and never let them to be a nuisance to the neighbours.



My apartment doesn’t allow for dog or cat pets. I love to keep birds but that also not allowed if it makes lots of noise.
So, what to do? Just whistle like a bird lah!
Or make sounds like cicada, my favorite rainforest symphony orchestra! It’s all for free!


tunglung, how about migrate to Sg Petani, big land, big house, cheap cheap, and you can have an aviary, more fun.

Keep the birds in the small cage, tak boleh la…

i have been suggesting to my friends let us all retire in Sg Petani…

Nice day !


Kee. You sell Sg Petani as irresistible vacation home destination. Must one day recee the Ulu place, breathe the Ulu air and swim in whatever pristine Ulu river there.
And maybe I bring along a Merbuk to test the ambience of nature. If it sings on the spot, tis the place for me to retire in peace, serenity and nature adventure (as a civilised outpost to my dream Belum Rainforest)

ong eu soon

If we do not stop the stupidity of LGe, in the future to come we will see the exacerbated socioeconomic and income segregation, homelessness and other social ills especially in the island.


Ah Soon, i think you need to stop your own stupidity first, ya?

You seem to criticise with vengence whatever that comes from Lim Guan Eng. What is wrong with you Ah Soon?

DAP govt does something for the people, complain, not doing anything, also complain…

What do you want Ah Soon? You want to be CM of Penang?

Where were you for the past 2 decades when BN was the King in Penang ?


Why poor? State Government or AMNO/MCA/Gerakan Federal Government to be blame for not uplifting the wages and education? Poor people hs been staying in places where the Big Maybank and rubbish dump is beside. So when they move to a unit housing, they throw rubbish, deface the walls by ‘gangs” who does not have proper jobs. Worst since they are renting not house ownership, why bother about maintenance. Basic Maintenence can be as high as 30% of the rent they are paying. This shows the rich knows how to critise the government as they own land whereas the poor has… Read more »

ong eu soon

Kee if you got brain argue with me about policy matter not come here to bodek LGe! Can you deny the fact that LGe is continuing whatever bad policies left behind by KTK? Can you deny the fact that LGe is has no plan or what so ever on low cost housing? Can you deny the fact that LGe is implementing Housing Apartheid by isolating and alienating the poor from other income groups? Kee where is your brain when you workship your idol? You seriously think that LGe still stand achance to win? With the majority turn out in the… Read more »


Kee, I concurred with Soon that LGE does not have any concrete plan for low cost housing in Penang. Since 08, the PR govt has not lay out any low cost or mixed housing project. Yes Batu Kawan is one project but then he must think of the people on the island. Anyway you can get houses almost as cheap as the Batu Kawan projects in surrounding area such as Simpang Ampat. After 08, LGE in a haste for development and cash for the coffer has conceded to most of the developer demands. For example he rather take 40k for… Read more »



Still going after your dream to live in the Island.
Just go to Hong kong. there are still reasonable cheap apartments not in Hong Island but in the New Terrority like Tin Siu Wai or Tuen Mun. If you want to stay in the city, you can … rent a cage bed space or subdividing a room in Mongkok. Not long more than 10 people burnt to death near the famous pasar malam street and few fire fighters were killed due to the excape door chained and premises containing hazards.


Yang, it is either people centric or developer centric government. Some unsound arguments to compare with HongKee lifestyle of pay high or leave are like saying you must drive BMW or don’t use this highway here. What is the use of man-made policies if one is not exercising a political will of conviction to be people centric? Why must the minds be always bent by commercialization and not better solutions for the ones who truly voted for a better change. And not for hardship of trying to buy a decent home of one’s choice in Penang. Is neo-capitalism an all… Read more »


Just buzz words and no solution. How about thousands of people who are poorer than us? Of course it is ME. MEism. I want this or if it is a government by the people what about JFK’s not “what the country can do you you but what U CAN DO FOR THE COUNTRY’


Dear Yang and Soon First of all, i reply Ah Soon first but not about any policy to do with Penang state as am no expert and i think there is no point of me “kau peh and kau boh” here. However, Ah Soon, i think it is time you need to cease being a narcissist, for your own good, really. Yes, Ah Soon, i agree with you that the Malay’s votes are crucial for Pakatan to succeed in the next GE. You can call me no brain, whatever it is fine with me. Still, Ah Soon Kor, i wish… Read more »

ong eu soon

You guy have been supporting Dr M for decades, worshiped him as he is the genius of the genius. Like when I critised LGe, I faced the risk of being assaulted. So you dare to come and talk nonsense of being a narcissist. If you are Kee the preacher, let me ask you this, did you ever see GOD in person? If you never then you are a narcissist who didn’t practice thing that you preached.

ong eu soon

The Batu Kawan housing scheme is a mixed housing scheme of middle and high income groups without the low cost components. The poor will be housed in some other slum areas. If the planner ever learned from the infamous ‘Cabrini-Green’ of California which became synonymous with the problems associated with public housing in US, mixed income housing with low cost component will be the answer to prevent the repeat of despicable living condition of low cost high rise flats.

ong eu soon

The alienation and isolation of low cost community is mainly to be blamed for the despicable condition of low cost high rise flats. The only way to avoid this is to build a mixed income housing. When the low cost communities are isolated and alienated the government will tend to ignore the maintenance need of those housing schemes. But the government will not be able to tolerate an eyesore especially when a low cost housing is in a posh housing area. That is why residents of the mixed-income developments have reported fewer problems. When new development take place, existing residents… Read more »


To be fair to LGE, the afffordable housing programe he introduced in Batu Kawan is of mixed prices. There are units priced at 70k and also units above 200k. I would say that 70k is affordable enough. Why do we want to put our citizens into low cost housing? That should be a thing of the past. It should be affordable but not low cost. If they don’t have a job, find them a job. If jobs here pay too little, have a minimum wage and improve education standards. Not put people in 20k boxes and call it homes. If… Read more »

Andrew I

Very well said, Kevin.

ong eu soon

When the government open the door for foreign labors, the illiterate locals have no chance of getting a job. Those people become more and more poor and marginalised. That is why the crime rate getting worst in other parts of Malaysia. Penang is lucky to have a sizable groups of motorists who volunteer to patrol the streets to keep the crime rate down. Unless the state government can stop the importing of foreign labors, it will has no choice but to build low cost housing for the poor and marginalised.


Foreign labor import is one big factor affecting local incomes, whether the bosses or employers like to acknowledge or deny. The one legal solution is to impose minimum income or reduce labor import for selected industries. The other is to overcome ageism against older workers who are most likely more responsible, reliable and experienced. The state gomen can also give free skill training / upgrading for those seeking to improve their work skill value. Is there a law preventing foreigners opening shops. Just walk around Brick Kiln Road opposite GAMA and 2nd level of Komtar facing Penang Road, and you… Read more »


Why the State Government has to act like Federal Government when we pay road tax and income tax to them? The Federal Governement has the mata2, immigration and even laws about special positions and yet how can the State Government act like Tau koh?


You mean the state government import labour to work in its organisation? So now the state government can issue work permit? Why not blame this again on LGE when this does not happen during Gerakan’s time?
What to the tax Penang people pay to UMNO Federal Government? They still have to become part time mata2.