Attended a discussion on low-income housing in Malaysia and these were some of the points that surfaced.
Federal/state policy on low-income housing has failed.
Accessibilty and universal design (including pedestrian access) is often indequate. Public transport connections especially outside urban centres are lacking.
What we have instead is property-centric development that is geared toward the top one to five per cent, whether for business or residential property development.
This is fuelled by property speculation, which has driven up prices, not just of top-end housing, but across the board. Higher housing prices have resulted in increased household indebtedness as buyers have to take bigger housing loans to buy homes.
This has often resulted in long-established communities being driven out of the land they had been living on for generations. The compensation offered is often a pittance – usually not enough for alternative housing – and scandalous especially considering the huge profits that developers stand to make.
Why are people unable to afford new homes? Apart from higher prices, low wages are partly responsible.
State intervention in the provision of low-income housing appears to have been abandoned. In the past, state agencies used to develop entire townships for the working class.
Nowadays, instead of state agencies building social housing on state land, state governments prefer to sell their land to private developers, who then engage in building housing targeted at the top 5 per cent. (No wonder there is a glut of such housing now at a time when those in the bottom half of the population are unable to afford decent homes.)
In many urban areas, property speculation has resulted in the lower-income group being pushed to the fringes and they thus have to spend more on transport to commute work in the absence of property public transport. In Penang, this means that more and more people are forced to live on the mainland and travel to work on the island.
But the tunnel project has also meant that property speculation is now beginning to be felt in mainland areas like Bagan Ajam. This will propel property prices in nearby areas as well.
The Prima housing projects that were promised before GE13 are moving at a glacial pace (apart from Pahang).
So, there has been a turn to the private sector. Developers are now expected to build a percentage of their housing for the lower-income groups – but they are reluctant as profit margins for such projects are thin. As a result, the quality and design of low-cost housing is often suspect.
Rubbish disposal and maintenance in such housing is often poor. (The notable exceptions appear where people have been empowered to decide on how their areas have been run under projects run by PWDC.)
Little thought has been given to the housing of migrant workers. Where do they live? This is glaring as migrants make up around 15 per cent of the population.
The gender aspect needs to be considered as well. Do new projects make provision the needs of single mothers?
What about child-care creches?
Rural areas and village such as Penanti should be spared the onslaught of the high-rise concrete jungle to preserve their unique way of life. Heritage conservation should not be limited to inner city George Town – though even there, gentrification has changed the traditional way of life while traditional inner city communities were displaced.
Indeed, housing should not be considered merely as a commodity that needs to be supplied, but the vision of housing should look at the entire way of life of local communities and their needs.
We need to look at housing models around the world that have worked. What kind of policies for housing do they have in countries such as Venezuela?