Give the poor adequate shelter

  • Letters
  • Monday, 28 Jul 2003

WE REFER to the letter, “Housing policy will benefit many”, (The Star, July 25). We wish to add to and qualify some of the points the writer has raised. 

When housing is planned for the “needy and less affluent,” apart from building enough homes, the key issues we have to look at are quality and affordability. 

As a guide to both, we have the recommendations of the UN Habitat Agenda, specifically Paragraph 60 which states: “Adequate shelter means more than a roof over one's head. It also means adequate privacy; adequate space; physical accessibility; adequate security; adequate lighting and ventilation; adequate basic infrastructure and suitable environmental quality. All of which should be made available at affordable cost.  

“Adequacy should be determined with the people concerned.”  

Every human has a right to adequate housing. When houses are built for the poor, what one invariably sees is the implementation of ideas contrary to the recommendations of the Habitat Agenda.  

Homes for the poor in the form of low-cost terrace houses and flats are really not much more than mere roofs over the heads.  

The built-up area is about 400-500 square feet (and occasionally up to about 800 square feet), which severely cramps a family of about six to a small space.  

Adequate space and privacy do not exist in low-cost homes. The poor who tend to have extended families have to consider “atomising” their families to adapt to the limited space.  

This conflicts with the Government’s concept of a caring society, and its encouragement of the extended family system and the practice of cherished Asian family values. 

It has been acknowledged that the breakdown of the traditional family system has contributed to social problems among children and youth growing up in a setting devoid of adult guidance and supervision, and in a society where both parents are out juggling one, two or even three jobs.  

The newly completed Syarikat Perumahan Negara’s Buntong Permai four-storey walk-up flats in Ipoh has a built-up area of around 700 square feet per unit. That is hardly what one would call adequate for a six to eight-member family. Flats for the poor are not a people-friendly option. 

As for affordability, Syarikat Perumahan Negara’s flats at RM42,000 per unit, are well out of the reach of the poor.  

Our recommendations are that terrace houses, and not congested flats, be built for the low-income group. The terrace houses should have a floor space of 1,500 square feet, and should be subsidised by the Government so that the price is fixed at RM25,000. 

Housing schemes for the low-income group should also include community space and facilities for recreation and social interaction.  

MOHANARANI RASIAH, Co-ordinator, National Coalition of Urban Pioneers and Housing, Kajang. (via e-mail)

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