Making do in PPR flats

LAST week, a social activist who is a close friend of mine asked me to accompany him for a visit to the PPR (People’s Housing Project) flats owned by City Hall Kuala Lumpur (DBKL) in Sri Pantai. He wanted to show me the condition of the flats and how the B40 tenants there live.

He said he was concerned about some issues that were not being addressed by DBKL and wanted me to see them so that I could bring them to the attention of the public. I agreed and took my son along.

Although I have never been to PPR flats before, I am no stranger to living in two-bedroom walk-up flats. Being the son of a police constable, I spent most of my growing up years in one-room or two-bedroom units in police barracks. Our family of eight lived the best we could in these places.

Thus, when I entered some of the units, I did not share my friend’s concern over eight family members sharing a two-bedroom flat.

I actually thought DBKL was providing good housing with some amenities like a kindergarten and community areas.

As I walked along the corridors, I tried to see if there were any structural or construction defects in the 20-year-old building but found nothing troubling. All in, I thought that if the lifts were well maintained, these folks would live quite a good life there.

But as I visited other units, I began to notice the concerns my friend had been talking about.

Many showed signs of water leakage that peeled the plaster off the wall, creating a chemical concoction that could be bad for health.

The plaster, especially those over the cooking area, really needed to be repaired.

I also noticed small cracks and exposed wiring that needed immediate repair. There were front doors that had come off the hinges and doors to toilets that could not be used because the frame had been damaged by water over a period of years.

When I asked the tenants if they had raised the matter to DBKL, they said they had, but they were told to fix the problems themselves because these were normal wear-and-tear issues.

If what they said was true, I felt this was not an appropriate response from DBKL. I don’t understand why DBKL workers couldn’t do a walkabout at the flats and see for themselves all the faulty doors, cracks and water seepage. DBKL should not consider itself a landlord but rather the servant of the people.

There are two issues that need immediate attention.

The first is flooding from rain and leaking tanks that leaves pools of water on the concrete floor. It is frightening to think that these pools could become breeding grounds for mosquitoes, especially Aedes which causes dengue.

Many tenants showed me their children’s arms and legs that bore mosquito bite marks.

The other issue concerns the windows of the units. These were louvred windows using cheap aluminium frames. I also used these cheap frames for some of the windows in my bungalow. They are good for ventilation but the glass panes are another matter.

Firstly, when there is heavy rain coupled with strong wind, water would come in between the glass panes. Tenants told me how their living rooms or bedrooms would be flooded during a storm.

One said he covered the whole window frame with plastic and solved the flooding, but now it cannot be opened for ventilation.

Secondly and of more serious concern is the danger of falling glass panes from the louvred windows.

This gave me nightmares about visiting PPR flats ever again. Due to the cheap frames, the glass could be dislodged and fall, injuring people on the ground. There are no roofs over the walkways to stop the glass from hitting the ground!

I thought about the same windows I used for my house, but it is a single-storey bungalow and no one would be hurt if a glass pane were to fall to the ground.

There is an urgent need to build a steel-covered walkway of about 3m wide to prevent the tenants from being injured or even killed by falling glass panes. Changing all the louvred windows to a casement type would be ideal, but that might cost too much. A more economical solution is to build a covered metal walkway all around the building.

Incidentally, a child died after being hit by a falling chair from 20 storeys up. The mother showed me a picture of the victim when I walked into her flat.

There is no point for our country to describe itself as a developed society with 5G Internet speed and tall buildings if some of its citizens do not have even the basic amenities. Providing basic amenities to the people is the first and final calling of our government.

The PPR flats are a good start, but the authorities concerned must do monthly walkabouts and maintenance to put the tenants at ease.

The measure of DBKL’s success is not in how beautiful and luxurious it decorates its own building and offices but how content and peaceful their wards are in the PPR flats.

Perhaps it’s time that the promotion of civil servants and extension of terms for top local council leaders be tied directly to the rating given by their most important clients, the B40 group.

Prof Dr Mohd Tajuddin Mohd Rasdi is Professor of Architecture at UCSI University. The views expressed here are entirely the writer’s own.

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