Authorities in the dark

Temporary fix: The railings at PPR Kota Damansara were reinforced after a five-year-old boy fell to his death in January. –filepic

Temporary fix: The railings at PPR Kota Damansara were reinforced after a five-year-old boy fell to his death in January. –filepic

THE people’s public housing scheme (PPR) has long been debated for its purpose and functionality to provide a transitional home for the poor.

Unfortunately the houses for the poor have been sorely neglected for several reasons and residents have been looking for the right people to air their grievances for years.

However a recent discovery at a Select Committee on Competency, Accountability and Transparency (Selcat) to discuss the maintenance issues of PPR and low-cost flats revealed more disturbing news.

All the various state bodies involved in managing these flats were equally in the dark over their exact responsibility in managing four PPR housing projects in Selangor — PPR Kota Damansara, PPR Hicom Shah Alam, PPR Lembah Subang and PPR Serendah.

The cause for this confusion was later traced to its core reason; the grey lines between the exact jurisdiction and task of each government body.

A playground from hell for unassuming children who use the broken slide at PPR Hicom, Shah Alam
No child’s play: Broken facilities in the playground at PPR Hicom, Shah Alam is a danger to unassuming children.

In the Selcat hearing for PPR Kota Damansara, the flats were built by the Federal government on state land and handed over to the Petaling Jaya City Council (MBPJ) for maintenance.

The council then signed an agreement with Perumahan dan Hartanah Selangor Sdn Bhd (PHSSB), a real estate company wholly owned by Selangor Housing and Property Board (LPHS) to manage the flats.

As such, who should be responsible?

Selangor state speaker Hannah Yeoh, who chaired the hearing, said the decision to handover the flats’ management to a specialised body like PHSSB was spot on.

“Local councils are not the right party to handle maintenance, they are already handling other basic services. Bodies like PHSSB are the right people because it is focused,” she said.

Yeoh believes that the staff are better trained to manage non-paying tenants unlike councils who are troubled with infrastructure, development and maintenance of road and other facilities.

Similarly, state executive councillor for housing, building and urban settler management Datuk Iskandar Abdul Samad agreed on the importance of a dedicated maintenance body.

“Currently, three out of the four PPRs in Selangor are under PHSSB while the Lembah Subang flats are under MBPJ,” said Iskandar.

The maintenance, he said, was important the residents were still in need of the flats as they were unable to secure bank loans because of their financial ineligibility.

Kota Damansara assemblyman Halimaton Saadiah Boha said the parties responsible for the PPRs could be easily determined.

The broken staircase railing is causing a safety hazard especially for children who regularly use the stairs at Block H.
Dangerous support: A broken and rusty staircase railing is a safety hazard especially for children who regularly use the stairs at Block H Putra Damai PPR flats. –filepic

She said in cases such as PPR Kota Damansara, although built by the Federal government, stands on state land, making the state owners of the buildings.

“However, I do believe the Federal government should also contribute to the financial upkeep of the building because it is for the people,” she said.

One possible solution, Halimahton said, was to set up an action committee comprising officials from the Housing Ministry, state government and the local authority.

“This way, there is a collective effort to preserve the condition of the flats as well ensure the responsible party is monitored at all times,” she explained.

While the elected representatives had their own opinions on those who should be responsible for maintenance of PPR flats, residents were more inclined towards resolving the problem.

For the PPR Lembah Subang residents, the people behind their maintenance issues meant little to them.

The flats’ Block D chairman Sulaiman Darus said they preferred to focus on the issue instead of the people responsible for the maintenance.

“We do not want to point fingers because we understand their situation, but they should iron out their differences to provide us with better facilities,” said Sulaiman.

Fellow resident Baharin Mohd Tahir said they feel shortchanged since they were the most affected residents compared to all the other PPR flats residents in Selangor.

Their flats have been in disarray for years and recently, the elevetors in blocks D and F, which are 17-storey buildings, have not been working.

“We just need to know that our problems will be dealt with and resolved,” he added.

Friends of Kota Damansara (FOKD) volunteer group chairman Jeffrey Phang, offers a different view of management for the PPR flats, saying that the flats’ management should not be seen as a “business venture”.

“It is a social problem which needs intervention by the state government or local council, and the railings are just a symptom; the whole situation stems from bad housing policy and bad housing design,” said Phang.

While FOKD has long had a presence in PPR Kota Damansara, the volunteer body had also looked into working with PPR Lembah Subang, but there are certain differences, such as the lack of space at Lembah Subang.

Phang also drew comparisons between the lack of civic engagement in the PPR flats, with Singapore’s Housing Development Board (HDB) which promotes civic consciousness among its dwellers.

“We do our part, such as helping the residents form their own volunteer group, and they had previously engaged PHSSB over a year ago,” said Phang.

What was needed, not just in PPR flats, but also low-cost strata properties, was a holistic policy drawing from the various state executive council portfolios, ranging from local government, to housing, and urban poverty.

“Right now, the different state councillors and agencies pursue their own piecemeal policies to assist the residents,” said Phang.

PPR flats first began as transition homes for squatters who were relocated, to allow development to take place.

“These were started during former mentri besar Datuk Seri Dr. Mohamad Khir Toyo’s time, as part of the Zero Squatter Scheme introduced by the federal and state governments over a decade back,” said Phang.

The idea then, was to allow the squatters enough time to find their own homes, and move out, leaving the units for the next batch of needy residents.

“But this has been a culture shock, and the community spirit is also damaged,” said Phang, adding that maintenance was the end result of other issues, such as rental collection, which he explained, was not uniformly enforced, varying between RM124 and RM250.

“Even if you manage to get a near 100% rental collection, this will not be enough to repair lifts and railings which are basic infrastructure. In other strata-titled properties, you would have a sinking fund which the PPRs do not have,” said Phang.

The bigger problem is residents who moved in also do not wish to move out; citing poverty, rising living costs as reasons for their indefinite stay.

Yeoh said the PPR should never be on rent alone forever and assessments should be conducted periodically.

“You do not want the not so poor folk to cling on to these units because rent is unbelievably cheap. It would deprive other poor people from getting PPR units,” she added.