Citizen Nades - The affordable homes poser

THEY were not entitled to such privileges, but they made no secret of their special positions, akin to telling the whole world: "It was bestowed upon us and who are you to question us?"

Some of them were not afraid to claim ownership, while many have used proxies and names of family members to acquire them. This is not new.

This newspaper unearthed the scam in 2010 and yet, it continues to exist, no thanks to a policy of the previous state government.

These days, the title of their inappropriate possessions has changed – from low-cost to affordable housing. But after almost six years, nothing else has changed.

More than 500 employees (past and present) of the Petaling Jaya City Council owned – directly or indirectly – such units and earned a steady income by renting them to third parties.

One of the most senior officers cited in our report was Sharipah Marhaini Syed Ali, the council's planning director.

MBPJ's senior assistant engineer, Hanizah Katab, owned one too.

By her own admission, Sharipah is not the only director who owned a low-cost flat.

Questioned by a councillor, she charged that there were other "directors and deputy directors" who owned such properties.

In a reply to a memo from then Deputy Mayor Puasa Md Taib, Sharipah retorted that "if the policy is that those earning above RM2,500 are not eligible, then all the other officers involved should be asked to explain".

Going by the state government's guidelines on eligibility for low-cost units, they would not qualify by a mile because only those having a combined family income of less than RM2,500 a month can apply.

But then, the argument was that Sharipah and other officers were "rewarded" by the then exco member in charge of local government, Datuk Mokhtar Dahlan for "helping the state achieve its zero-squatter target".

Most, if not all, of the low-cost units are not owner-occupied.

Instead, they are an extra source of income because they can fetch rentals of up to RM500 a month.

Herein is the problem of affordable housing for the lower-income group.

Just how many low-cost units are owner-occupied?

There have been no formal surveys, inspections or assessments.

Besides, for politicians, it will always be a hot potato, especially with the impending hustings.

In the meantime, the council employees – not only in Petaling Jaya but also municipalities – earn extra income at the expense of the people and the government.

The government says 723,000 affordable homes are being built across the country as part of the federal government's programme to build one million units by 2018.

Urban Wellbeing, Housing and Local Government Minister Tan Sri Noh Omar said the houses are being built under the 1Malaysia People's Housing, 1Malaysia Civil Servants Housing, and Syarikat Perumahan Negara Berhad schemes, as well as by the ministry and the state governments.

But how does anyone ensure that these houses do not end up in the hands of those who don't deserve them? I can picture these organisations putting up their hands and saying "no takers".

The National Housing Council has defined as affordable houses those units priced at RM300,000 and below. But then, how many people can afford a home at such a price.

A fresh graduate, who despite getting help from his parents, would not likely get a loan to finance his purchase.

For example, if his parents put the 10% down payment, he would not get a loan for RM270,000 when he earns just RM2,500 or RM3,000 at the most.

But didn't someone read Bank Negara's annual report before coming up with this magical figure?

Among others, it said: "The shortage in housing supply has been particularly acute in the affordable housing category.

In 2014, half of Malaysian households earned a monthly income of RM4,585 and below. 

"According to the 'Median Multiple' methodology developed by Demographia International and recommended by the World Bank and the United Nations to evaluate urban housing markets, a house is considered affordable if a household can finance it with less than three times its annual household income (house price-to-income ratio of 3.0 and below). 

"This suggests that houses priced up to RM165,060 are considered affordable to a median Malaysian household. However, only 21% of new housing launches in Malaysia were priced below RM250,000 in 2014. 

"In contrast, the data points to an oversupply of higher-end properties priced above RM500,000. Although property launches in this price category account for 36% of total new launches in Malaysia, these houses are only within the reach of 5.4% of the population."

In short, half of Malaysians can only afford a house sold at RM165,000 and 79% of all houses built in the country cost more than RM250,000 which makes them unaffordable.

So, are we deceiving ourselves by talking about affordable houses in the RM400,000 to RM500,000 range? 

So, why do we continue trumpeting affordable homes which at current prices, becomes unaffordable to more than half the citizenry?

And when targets are not met, the finger will be pointed at everyone else except the decision makers who refuse to accept reality.

In a previous column, I had suggested plantation companies who have tracts of agricultural land be compelled to build the low-cost houses.

Most of them, it appears, are leaning towards million-ringgit homes as the returns understandably are higher.

What about the state? Shouldn't it be providing land at reduced prices for affordable housing? Recently, Kuala Lumpur City Hall sold 16.99ha of land that housed a theme park and a restaurant.

In its place, said Kuala Lumpur mayor Datuk Seri Mohd Amin Nordin Abd Aziz, a mixed development of high-end bungalows, multi-storey towers and condominiums as well as a Federal Territories affordable housing scheme will be built.

But your guess is as good as mine. Only those earning more than RM5,000 a month would be able to get the requisite end-financing, and yet again those earning less will be left out.

Shouldn't City Hall have used the land exclusively for affordable homes and undertaken the project?

Well, in Malaysia, some people like to spread the wealth around to keep more people happy!

R. Nadeswaran hopes the affordable housing scheme will succeed and will be happy to be proven wrong.