Breaking out of ‘unliveable’ mould

The common area at the flats feels like home. — Photos: Bernama

Hussin Yahya never tires of the view of the playground from his second-floor flat at the low-cost housing in Pandan Utama, Ampang, Selangor.

The 67-year-old retiree, who has been staying at the 12-storey Rumah Pangsa Pandan Utama since 2003, enjoys watching children on swings and teenagers playing futsal on a nearby court while the adults chat on benches.

The playground exudes an air of harmony and this sense of well-being can be felt in the rest of the housing area.

Hussin feels vindicated as his efforts to change the mindset of his 600-odd fellow flat dwellers have not been in vain, especially as 90% of them previously lived in squatter settlements.

“It was not like this before. People here used to hurl their rubbish to the ground and we had to bear the stench of urine around the place. It was hard to get residents to cooperate.

Hussin enjoying the view from his second-floor flat at Rumah Pangsa Pandan Utama, Ampang.Hussin enjoying the view from his second-floor flat at Rumah Pangsa Pandan Utama, Ampang.

“We also had to deal with vandalism. Worse still, we had drug addicts and criminals lurking around so residents didn’t dare to hang out or play in the playground,” the father of five told Bernama.

Hussin said things changed after a joint management body (JMB) was set up in 2015, which opened the eyes of residents on the importance of creating a clean, comfortable and harmonious environment.

The impact was more obvious during the Covid-19 pandemic movement control order period when residents went the extra mile to beautify the common areas.

They repainted and adorned the graffiti-filled walls with paintings, floral decorations and wallpaper.

Potted plants were placed in the corridors next to lifts and more greenery was added to their playground and futsal court.

Living comfortably

Rumah Pangsa Pandan Utama is a low-cost housing scheme.

As finding affordable housing in the Klang Valley is challenging, many low-income earners live in similar housing projects such as the People’s Housing Programme (PPR), a government initiative to relocate squatters and meet the needs of the poor.

PPR, overseen by the Local Government Development Ministry’s National Housing Department, comprises rented and owner-occupied units.

Hussin, who is Rumah Pangsa Pandan Utama JMB chairman, said: “When our area became cleaner, the residents felt better.

“There was also a significant drop in crime because of our close ties with the police and local council. We feel safer now.”

A sense of well-being prevails at Rumah Pangsa Pandan Utama now that the housing scheme has been cleaned up.A sense of well-being prevails at Rumah Pangsa Pandan Utama now that the housing scheme has been cleaned up.

According to him, the makeover was done by flat dwellers who used their own money.

Those who were initially not too keen eventually joined in, inspired by the changes in their surroundings.

To nab residents who commit offences such as disposing of rubbish indiscriminately, and to weed out unsavoury activities, six closed-circuit television cameras have been installed in strategic places such as the lift lobby.

During a recent visit, Rumah Pangsa Pandan Utama looked as spick-and-span as a luxury housing scheme.

The lift lobby on the ground floor and the lift corridor on each floor featured a mix of eye-catching wallpaper and decorative panelling.

What is more, they had tiled floors and places for people to sit.

Resident Fazilah Jahalil, 58, a homemaker, said none of them were forced to participate in the beautification of the common areas and the cost was according to their budgets.

An inviting spot to sit at this hallway which has been decorated with potted plants, flowers and pretty panelling on the walls.An inviting spot to sit at this hallway which has been decorated with potted plants, flowers and pretty panelling on the walls.

“The 10th floor where I live was one of the first to be beautified.

“There are 18 units on my floor and we chipped in whatever amount we could to lay new tiles, paint the walls and put up decorations.

“Seeing our success, the residents of other floors wished to beautify their areas too using their creativity and did a good job,” she said.

She added that the JMB deserved praise for transforming the housing scheme.

Cultivating positive mindset

The sense of well-being enjoyed by Ruman Pangsa Pandan Utama residents shows the benefits of living in a clean and comfortable environment.

It is also indicates that the problems besetting low-cost housing schemes such as indiscriminate dumping and drug abuse are closely linked to the mindset of the residents.

A case in point is a PPR scheme in Petaling Jaya that Bernama visited.

Its common areas were mostly dark and dirty.

The third floor reeked of urine while its corridor walls were covered with grime and scribblings including vulgar words.

The fifth floor, in contrast, looked clean with the walls in the lift area adorned with wallpaper.

S. Chowdri, who runs a grocery store there, admitted that maintaining cleanliness in a high-density area was a huge challenge.

“Residents throw rubbish wherever they want even though bins are provided. It’s difficult to change their mindset,” she lamented.

To address problems plaguing PPR schemes, the Ministry has made it compulsory for prospective owners of PPR units to attend a civic engagement course to create understanding of community living and neighbourhood etiquette.

Local Government Develop--ment Minister Nga Kor Ming said the course would include a briefing on the importance of paying maintenance fees, maintaining cleanliness and preventing vandalism.

“Civic consciousness will create a more environmentally and resident-friendly community,” he said.

Honorary fellow of independent think tank Institut Masa Depan Malaysia Dr Madeline Berma said while the civic course for new buyers of PPR units was a good move, there were other aspects that needed to be focused on.

“This approach may not be that effective because it’s like we are blaming the residents for the problems in their PPR.

“We should consider the facilities provided, maintenance and habitability of the PPR.

“Based on our studies, I’ve found that PPR schemes are unliveable.

“So educating the community via a course is not enough.

“The residents association and JMB also play an important role.

“Regular gotong-royong sessions may have to be made compulsory to maintain the housing area,” she said.

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