The New Straits Times-Feb 9

Demolishing to rebuild is an idea whose time has come. It is an idea that has been tried and tested as well, albeit in Singapore. Finally, the bottom 40 per cent (B40) income group can see their wish for a quality, affordable home fulfilled under the People’s Housing Project (PPR). A 2011 study conducted by Goh Ai Tee and Ahmad Yahaya of the Department of Architecture, Faculty of the Built Environment, Universiti Malaya indicated that there were 63,377 of such units in the country, of which 34,106 were in Kuala Lumpur. Many of the PPRs were built in 1998 to implement the country’s no-squatter policy and they bear the marks of ailing apartments in need of urgent repair. Complaints from apartment dwellers are aplenty. Water dripping through walls and ceilings, clogged manholes, malfunctioning lifts are some common laments.

All this should be a thing of the past when the National Housing Management Corporation comes into operation under the Urban Wellbeing, Housing and Local Government Ministry. But first, a law needs to be passed to give life to this corporation. As this paper has learned, the cabinet has given its nod and a draft of the National Housing Management Corporation Act is in the Attorney-General’s Chambers for review with a view to tabling it in Dewan Rakyat. The setting up of the corporation will also put to bed a recurrent problem associated with PPRs. The current practice is for the Federal Government to build the PPR and hand it over to the state government to manage once completed. This is where the problem often rears its ugly head. Many PPRs in Selangor and Penang are facing issues of neglect. Dilapidation of facilities sets in and residents take the easy way out. Blaming failing lifts, some throw rubbish and discarded furniture from high floors. Occasionally, this ends in death as it happened to a 15-year-old schoolboy when a chair landed on his head at the Sri Pantai PPR.

Of course, this lack of civic-mindedness cannot be eradicated by the proposed National Housing Management Corporation. This requires something more — an internal sea change through the education of the heart. Apartment dwellers need to learn to be compassionate to fellow residents. People who find it hard to share a common space with others must be denied a place. Besides, people who are not civic-minded will contribute to high maintenance costs for building managers. It is understood that the National Housing Department is looking at 20-year-old PPRs as targets of the “demolish and rebuild” model. Under this model, the entire high-rise will be demolished and a new PPR will be erected in its place. A plus point of this model is the ability to build in low maintenance from ground up. Toa Payoh in Singapore may just be the model to be replicated. B40 income group could now bid adieu to 20 years of laments as inclusive development comes their way in the shape of a very livable space. This is truly urban wellbeing. Way to go, National Housing Department.

(First published in The New Straits Times –