Local counsel - Getting housing allocations right

SHELTER is a basic need of human beings. Although heads of households are responsible to provide shelter for their families, the government has taken the responsibility of ensuring that the poor people too have roofs over their heads.

All the three levels of government, especially state government and local authorities, play important roles in providing adequate housing. For example, land use and the intensity of use are under the jurisdiction of the local authorities, but change of land use and boundaries need the approval of land offices which are under the jurisdiction of the state government.

Unfortunately, development control in Malaysia is not totally effective. Many local authorities are not able to gazette their draft local plans. Consequently, apart from the local authorities, many applications for permission to undertake land development have to be approved by the state planning committee chaired by the chief minister or mentri besar. The committee comprises state executive councillors and senior state officers.

State governments also build “low-cost” and “low-medium-cost” housing to cater to the needs of the low-income families. These are generally known as “affordable housing”.

There are two types of affordable housing. Type A low-cost houses are RM42,000 each. This category is for people whose income is not more than RM2,500 a month.

Type B low-medium-cost housing costs RM72,000 each. This category is for people whose income is not more than RM3,500 a month.

The owners are not allowed to rent out their units. Nor are they allowed to use them for commercial purposes. In addition, they are not allowed to sell them within 10 years.

There is a housing department in the Penang State Government. One of the responsibilities of its officers is to ensure that the allocations of low-cost and low-medium-cost units are not abused. For example, people who already own houses are not qualified to buy the low-cost or low-medium units.

There have been reports of the misuse of low-cost and low-medium-cost units in Penang.

Jagdeep Singh Deo, the Penang executive councillor in charge of housing, told a press conference: “I urge those who are aware of such abuses to lodge a complaint. In Penang, we will not tolerate those who abuse the system.”

So far, there has been no report about whether Jagdeep is aware of any misuse of low-cost or low-medium-cost units in Penang. But there is little doubt that he is aware of the rumours. Besides, a leader of Parti Cinta Malaysia (PCM) had said in an English language daily that the rich are staying at LMC (low-medium-cost) units.

According to him, there were expensive cars and superbikes parked at the LMC apartments in Bukit Glugor. Specifically, the superbikes were a BMW Motorrad superbike worth RM114,900, a Triumph Street Triple superbike (RM53,900) and a KTM Adventure superbike (RM68,888).

The presence of expensive motor vehicles was also briefly reported in Buletin Mutiara, a publication of the Penang State Government.

Jagdeep Singh, together with his officers in the State Housing Department, should take steps to verify the accusation of the PCM leader. If true, appropriate action should follow suit.

It is hoped that the housing department officers are able to pinpoint the apartments that are occupied by the so-called rich people.

However, it may be wrong to jump to conclusion that the tenants of the LMC have cheated based on what can be seen in the car park. It is possible that the owners became rich after staying in the apartments. There is the possibility that the children of poor Penangites who have been living in the low-cost or low-medium-cost housing have graduated and qualified as medical doctors, economists, lawyers, or other professionals, enabling them to earn high salaries.

It should be noted that there are also many young Malaysians who are doing exceptionally well all over the world, such as in United Kingdom, Germany and the United States.

The presence of “rich” people living in low-cost or low-medium-cost units is not an indication of bad allocation of the apartments. If the children of the poor have become rich through higher education, it is also a success of the housing system. The residents of the low-cost or low-medium-cost housing should be congratulated and used as examples of success stories.

Datuk Dr Goh Ban Lee is interested in urban governance, housing and urban planning. Comments: letters@thesundaily.com