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Saturday, October 10, 2009

Need for higher quality public housing projects

Malaysia’s aspiration to join the ranks of high income economies should bring cheer to Malaysians as it means they can look forward to higher income and enjoy a higher standard of living.

Hopefully with the new economic model to raise the people’s income level, their higher consumption ability will be able to drive domestic consumption for a broad variety of products and services, and strengthen the economy further.

For the rural and urban poor, more proactive measures to help them own a home will be a good start. Despite the many housing packages offered by developers to promote sales and home ownership during the past year, the poor are still unable to fork out the minimum 5% or 10% downpayment for a property. These people depend on affordable public housing projects.

With growing urbanisation in many parts of Malaysia, there is a need to ensure that higher quality and better equipped public housing projects are built for the poor.

Although there are many low-cost and affordable housing projects, most of them have failed to provide an improved quality of life to the lower income population. This is because these no-frills projects have not been properly maintained and managed.

Perhaps we can emulate China and Hong Kong, which have initiated government-driven public housing projects to house their urban poor and displaced people.

As prices of properties have appreciated sharply in many first and second tier cities in China, local councils and private developers in Nanjing came together to address the issues of good property management and quality living for displaced villagers and squatters.

Each project is targeted for 5,000 homes in multi-storey blocks with each 5,000 home development equipped with a 24 classroom primary school and a 12 classroom kindergarten. There is also a service centre, a community day-care medical centre, a supermarket and some retail single-storey shop lots.

The utilities include an organic solid waste bio chemical disposal station, sewage recycling and waste water recycling system, solar energy heating system for all homes and centres, and photo voltaic cells for street lighting.

The entire concept was not only to solve the problem of providing affordable housing but to address the issue of post development property management.

The proposal was to fund the entire support system of the project with capital expenditure up front to reduce the long term management and maintenance cost.

Local councils previously were unhappy to manage designated low cost housing due to problems in collection of service charges and the resulting lack of services.

The urban planning model is based on self management by the residents.

The project does not allow vehicular traffic within the urban landscape but allows for courtyard style neighbourhoods with pedestrian and bicycle traffic only.

The project cost 2,232 yuan per sq metre based on the net residential area. The fund for the project was subsidised by the state government, a loan from the bank and part construction subsidy from the private contractor.

Last November, the Nanjing project was awarded the United Nations Special Contribution Award for Sustainable Urban Development by the United Nations.

It will be good for local industry players and governing authorities to emulate similar high quality standards to liven up our public housing projects.

Deputy news editor Angie Ng believes that thinking out of the box and being proactive will be the saving grace for many old existing problems in the world today.

By The Star (by Angie Ng)

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