By Raveen Jeyakumar
Many ordinary people in Malaysia face difficulty in buying a house, as what is on the market is usually highly priced.
The root cause? The political system and the business class regard housing as a highly profitable industry instead of seeing the right to shelter as a basic right of the people.
In their collective pursuit of profits, some within our bureaucracy (state officials and government departments), government-linked companies and developers have engineered the national housing industry to enable them to reap large profits.
The bureaucracy has established various laws and requirements that have restricted and limited major participants in the construction and development industry to a small, exclusive group. This enables these players to make enormous profits from the housing market.
How does this often happen?
State governments often sell over-priced state land to their government-owned or government-linked companies for them to build homes.
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Only certain state departments and government-linked companies provide the required building permits for the construction of houses on state land and the supply of building materials. This creates avenues for these departments and companies to profit from the construction of these homes.
Developers prefer to construct high-end housing properties – which only the rich and the elite class can afford – to maximise their profits.
The bureaucracy favours the developers’ greed for profits by easing laws and requirements so that they can build more high-end properties to maximise the developers’ profits – instead of low-income housing, which is what most people desperately need nowadays.
The bureaucracy also appears to favour the elite class by easing laws and requirements so that they can buy high-end homes or property for speculation, instead of inhabiting them.
For the sake of low-income and middle-income people who cannot afford to rent or buy high-end homes, the government must summon the political will to implement much-needed systemic reforms in the housing industry.
Here are several reform measures.
One, establish a state-level housing trust in all states. The federal government should allocate funds to build quality housing for the low-income group and lower-middle class, without involving private developers and for-profit government-linked companies.
The trust should be strictly and solely tasked with providing housing for ordinary people as their basic right, instead of treating housing as a profitable industry.
Two, amend laws such as the National Land Code and the Land Acquisition Act to recognise and legalise ‘urban squatters’ and urban settlers who have occupied the land for over 20 years. Provide them land ownership at reasonable prices, upgrade their surrounding basic infrastructure and essential services, and grant them low-interest loans to repair and upgrade their homes.
For those who have rented land from private landlords, the money paid to the government for their land ownership could be topped up by the government and paid to those landlords as settlement for the acquisition.
Three, take the provision of first homes for families out of the market, by setting up a non-profit authority to build terrace houses on government land.
Sell these homes at just above the price of construction to low-income and lower-middle-class couples earning above RM2,500. Later, when the owners decide to sell their houses, they can only sell them back to the non-profit authority itself so that the houses can later be sold to similiar eligibile families.
For families earning below RM2,500, the government should charge a minimal rent.
Four, expand government housing programmes for lower-income households.
Build more council homes and Rumah Mesra Rakyat (people-friendly homes for those with household incomes below RM3,000 who do not have a house to live in and for those with dilapidated homes on their own land). This will benefit a larger number of the rural and urban poor.
All these low-income houses should be of decent quality. Their prices must be realistic, based on the purchasing power and the socioeconomic status of the average person in Malaysia.
For apartments, local government should handle the essential services and the cleanliness of these homes.
Job opportunities for the construction of these homes should prioritise locals at a living wage level, instead of relying on foreign workers.
Quality affordable housing is every individual’s fundamental right.
But for far too long, the political system and the business class have treated such basic needs and services solely as profit-making industries.
As a government that aims to be caring and responsible, the Malaysian government must prioritise the needs of the average person by taking these holistic measures to overcome the problem of unaffordable housing.
Such measures will not only provide enough affordable housing but also reduce the financial burden of the people, especially those from low-income households.
These measures will surely increase the people’s support for the current government.
Raveen Jeyakumar, an Aliran volunteer, is a 29-year-old based in Ipoh with an interest in social and environmental issues