Penang’s heritage site under threat due to inflated prices

  • Nation
  • Tuesday, 14 Jun 2016

Snapped up: A row of 11 pre-war shophouses in Noordin Street that were recently sold to Singaporeans.

GEORGE TOWN: Price manipulations, market monopoly and evictions of generations-old tenants are threatening the city’s world heritage site, claimed NGOs here.

Heritage properties estimated at RM400,000 to RM600,000 had suddenly changed hands for up to RM1.2mil, and these inflated prices have stirred foreigners, especially Singaporeans, into a buying frenzy of George Town’s pre-war shophouses.

The NGOs feel the soaring prices are eroding liveability, and are urging the public to alert Unesco and put George Town in the World Heritage in Danger list.

Penang Heritage Trust adviser Khoo Salma suspected that property speculators could have caused the prices to overheat through public auctions.

“We noticed pre-war houses being auctioned off at RM1.2mil when we thought it would go under the hammer for less than half that price.

“My friends made bids for such properties and were surprised when other parties made seven-figure offers that they couldn’t match.

“Before we knew what was happening, the prices of pre-war houses even outside the heritage zone had shot up,” she said in an interview yesterday.

Meanwhile, the heir of 12 pre-war shophouses in the heritage buffer zone told The Star that he had unsuccessfully tried selling them to the generations-old tenants for RM300,000 each before it went to the Malaysian subsidiary of a public-listed Singapore company for a total of RM11mil.

“I inherited the old shophouses from my ancestors and asked the tenants who have rented them for decades to buy them in 2010.”

When the tenants did not take up the offer, he said someone took them off his hands for RM400,000 each and this new owner later sold it to Singaporeans for about RM910,000 each.

“It’s amazing that Singaporeans are willing to pay that price.

“I had offered the previous tenants only RM300,000 because if they took bank loans, their instalments would be about the same as the RM1,300 rent they were paying.

“Now the 12 shophouses are refurbished and being rented for about RM7,000 each,” he said.

The saddest end of the tale seems to come from the old tenants.

Penang Gerakan’s Padang Kota coordinator H’ng Khoon Leng said he discovered a number of homeless people in the old city who were evicted tenants.

“They lived here all their lives.

“When evicted at their old age, they take to living in the streets of their childhood homes,” he said.

When H’ng tried to help them find new homes, he found resistance because these old people prefer to remain in the old city.

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