The housing needs of Malaysians, particularly the poor, must be addressed in a more comprehensive and compassionate manner, says Mustafa K Anuar.
The recent evictions of 22 tenants of low-cost housing, commonly known as PPR (Projek Perumahan Rakyat or People’s Housing Project) flats, in Taman Manggis on Penang Island, as it turned out, was more than just an issue of people needing a roof over their heads.
It was about a group of tenants who, according to the authorities, overstayed their welcome because most, if not all, of them had violated tenancy requirements and regulations.
These flats are meant to be transitional, and yet there are those who have lived in these places for more than the stipulated five years – when their expected improved economic status would automatically disqualify them from their tenancy.
Apart from earning a monthly salary of more than RM750, these aggrieved tenants were also said to have committed regulatory violations such as owning other homes, subletting the PPR flats and even running up arrears of thousands of ringgit in unpaid rent. The monthly rental is RM100.
It doesn’t help those on the waiting list to hear that a few of those tenants, who were deemed disqualified, led a relatively comfortable life, which simply means that the latter had unfairly deprived the former of a decent home.
The overstaying of such tenants has brought about prolonged suffering for over 400 poor people, who are waiting in a long queue for the Taman Manggis flats.
To be sure, having an abode is a basic necessity and human right, which is why the imagery of people being evicted, rightly or wrongly, can evoke an emotive response.
It was most unfortunate that in a situation where tensions ran high, certain quarters reportedly attempted to take advantage of it for their political ends by turning the controversy into something racial – almost all of the tenants happened to be from a particular ethnic and religious community.
This further complicated the endeavour of enforcement officers to be professional and stern in their action. Rules and regulations must be adhered to by both the officers and tenants to ensure that the needs of eligible tenants are well served.
As implied above, this incident indicates poor enforcement of law and regulations by the local authorities relating to the tenancy in these low-cost flats. It appears that the laxity in enforcement has given rise to a misplaced sense of entitlement among certain recalcitrant tenants.
The Taman Manggis case also points to the fact that the number of PPR flats (999) is low in Penang – the lowest in Malaysia.
In a sense, this reinforces the suspicion among concerned Malaysians and social activists that the Penang government is not giving enough attention to the housing needs of the bottom 40% as well as the middle-income group in the state. Building more expensive and luxury houses, as Penang housing developers are prone to do, is obviously missing the point.
It must, however, have been a relief of sorts to the needy in the state when Housing and Local Government Minister Zuraida Kamaruddin announced recently a plan to construct more PPR flats to overcome the housing shortage in Penang. Land reclamation, to be sure, is not in the equation.
Furthermore, the inability of many people to afford their own homes can be partly attributed to the fact that a sizeable portion of their disposable incomes goes to the purchase of cars and motorbikes, among other crucial things, because public transport system is generally not fully developed yet in Penang and elsewhere in the country.
To reiterate, the housing needs of Malaysians, particularly the poor, must be addressed in a more comprehensive and compassionate manner. At the same time, rules and regulations must be enforced to prevent any attempt at abusing the housing system.