PSM: Housing is a governmental responsibility

By Rani Rasiah, PSM Central Committee

One of the primary duties of an elected government is to ensure that the housing needs of all its people are adequately met. That is implied in the notion of government – a body to efficiently govern the resources of a nation in order to fulfill the needs of the population.

On World Habitat Day, we are reminded of how woefully the government has failed to provide this very basic need to at least  60% of households.  This is the result of the position of the government towards housing generally, and in particular, for the below RM3,000 household income category of families.

Two features characterize the government’s position. First, there is a refusal to acknowledge and assume responsibility for housing, more and more leaving it entirely in the hands of the market. Second is the tendency for the ruling elite and planners to literally equate housing with ‘shelter’, and thereby settle for the most ‘meager’ housing for the poor.

A host of problems result from this attitude of the government towards housing for low-income families. These include:

-Forced eviction and demolition of poor people’s houses in both squatter areas and estates going for development by developers and the government itself

-Highly undesirable low-cost high rise flats as housing for the low-income and a system of maintenance that is a complete failure. Many  private flats have deteriorated into ghettos, where social problems are rife.

-The housing prices in Klang Valley has shot up nearly 30% in the last two years, costs that out of the reach of the average worker. In ten years, the wages of workers increased by 2.6%;  in as long a period, the price of low cost houses shot up by 40% (RM25,000 to RM42,000) and has continued rising.

-High rentals and a scarcity of cheap government housing.  Low wages and wages below the poverty line have resulted in households earning too little to buy or rent a house. There is a vast shortage of cheap government housing at nominal rentals to look after the housing needs of this category.

-Continuous under-achievement of low cost housing targets fixed in theMalaysia Plans resulting in a shortage of low-cost houses. This is a fact as those whom are renting in PPR (Projek Perumahan Rakyat ) houses, majority have been renting for more than 10 years because the can’t simply afford to buy houses available in the market .

-No safeguards to protect low-income house owners from foreclosure and auction of their humble homes during periodic economic crises. Banks have not been considerate to wage earners especially during times of economic crises. Banks immediately put up houses for auction especially low cost apartments as banks realise that they can be sold for a higher price .Thus leaving the house owner in a quandary.

There has to be a fundamental shift from the current pro-business position to a pro-people one in order to significantly improve the housing situation of the rakyat.  We have to de commodify basic necessities including housing, health care, water and public transport. The BN government has amply shown that it is incapable of making such a shift.  In the coming general elections, we need to vote in a new government that is conscious of its role and responsibility towards the people, and among other things, is committed to the provision of adequate and affordable housing for the majority of the
people.