One authority for affordable housing

SO much has been done in the realm of providing affordable houses in the country that one might get the impression that the market situation has reached the ideal stage.

It has not. The biggest question concerns the very tagging given to such homes – are they really affordable to the average or low- income earners or better known as the B40 group or are they affordable on paper only?

It's often said that buying a house is the largest and most complicated financial commitment most people will ever make.

And any new or innovative ideas to further ease the ownership of affordable homes among those who need them most is about the biggest favour or national service that the authorities could render.

In the 2018 Budget, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Abdul Razak announced a RM2.2 billion shot in the arm to build 248,000 more affordable houses under various schemes to meet the increasing demand.

There is obviously a weak link in the eco-system of affordable home delivery that is being increasingly felt by market players and stakeholders. And this must be addressed quickly, moving forward.

For this, we owe a vote of gratitude to Manokaran Mottain, the chief economist of Alliance Bank Malaysia Bhd, for his recent proposal that a single authority be set up to govern the entire national affordable housing agenda.

This idea is noble and brilliant.

He said that to boost the country's home ownership level, a single agency is more than enough because having too many bodies in charge of the various housing schemes will only further dampen the national agenda.

"Have one agency to oversee the project and make sure that completion of the development is within the stipulated time-frame and can serve as a more powerful regulatory body, rather than having so many smaller ones operating in different management and schemes," he said.

Manokaran went one step further by even naming the entity as the Malaysian Affordable Housing Agency.

Abandoned housing projects affecting buyers among the average wage earners is a national phenomenon and many buyers have lost millions in life savings becoming victims to even bogus housing projects.

We have so many agencies grappling to deliver or regulate affordable homes, reflecting the bloated and, at times, the duplication in the way things are being managed.

To begin with, there is the Syarikat Perumahan Negara Bhd, then the Jabatan Perumahan Negara or National Housing Department, the 1Malaysia Housing Programme (PR1MA), PR1MA Awam for civil servants' housing, the low-cost housing schemes and as well as projects undertaken by the various state economic development corporations.

It might sound good at a glance to have the numbers but here comes the issue of coordination and problems arise when each agency doesn't talk to the other.

I must confess that I am a consistent advocate for Malaysians or Malaysian institutions to learn from Singapore but the problem is that we don't seem to do so for reasons that baffle me.

In Singapore, the provision of public housing is handled by one body, the Housing Development Board, one of Singapore's success stories that has won international acclaim.

The HDB as it's famously called is recognised as the world's most successful home ownership authority that has made available affordable homes to about 85% of Singapore's population.

The HDB was very much in the news again recently, and even hit world headlines, when it was reported extensively that even its newly-elected president, Halimah Yacob, lives in an HDB flat.

In fact, Manokaran in proposing for the single authority for affordable houses, mentioned that it be a replica of the HDB.

I really hope that our officials could hop off to Singapore on a study mission so as to speed up the formation of a similar body here.

Affordable housing is one issue closest to the heart of Bank Negara governor, Tan Sri Muhammad Ibrahim.

I can vouch for this as we regularly exchange WhatsApp postings and he's passionate when it comes to affordable housing for which he has regularly spoken.

And Bank Negara also recently launched a "Housing Watch" portal that provides analysis, advice and updates on the housing market.

The governor is particularly concerned about the mismatch between the supply and demand of such houses and certainly prices which make them unaffordable to the needy.

Just a day after the prime minister's Budget speech in Parliament, Muhammad called for a more systematic approach among all players and stakeholders dealing with affordable housing.

And he gave the thumbs up for the single authority idea which he says is "critical" in spearheading the national housing agenda.

Among other things, this single authority should be tasked with the role of bridging the supply-demand gap, ensuring minimum standards of such houses as well as to monitor and regulate all affordable housing providers at national and state levels.

So let's give this the priority that it deserves.

Like I regularly mention in this column, what is nation-building if citizens don't have decent roofs over their head?