Saturday, September 18

Abandoned buildings in the city

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EYESORE: Abandoned houses are seen in Kuching. — File photo

EYESORE: Abandoned houses are seen in Kuching. — File photo

THE problem must be so serious that it has forced the hand of the officials of the Kuching North City Commission (DBKU) to threaten to act against the owners of the abandoned houses found in certain localities under the commission’s jurisdiction.

Ten such houses have been ‘discovered’ there. Some of their owners have been identified, while the rest are being urged to get in touch with the authorities as soon as possible for a good chat with the view to arrive at a win-win situation – a lasting solution to the problems of non-occupation of the buildings and non-payment of rates.

Not least is the impact on the health and happiness of those occupying the other units in the case of a terraced housing scheme. If you take the trouble to drive around Kuching’s outskirts for a little, you can easily discover 10 times 10 abandoned houses.

One feels sorry for that owner of the terraced house in Petra Jaya who has lived with adjoining rooms remaining unoccupied for seven long years. Except for the company of loving members of his family and the happiness provided by the luxury sports cars, he misses the chance to visit neighbours during Hari Raya or Chinese New Year or Gawai.

An empty building is an eyesore to visitors, a blight to the neighbourhood, and a burden to the commission. And a security risk – ‘bad hats’ use abandoned houses as hiding places, to observe the neighbourhood while they plan their next burglary. So do drug fiends and glue sniffers.

Loss of revenue to council

From the viewpoint of the commission, it has been deprived of valuable sources of revenue for all the years the houses remain unoccupied. The frustrations of the officials – all keen to maintain the reputation earned by Kuching all this while – are palpable. Hence, the importance of their appeal for the owners, private or corporate, of all empty buildings to discuss things before a fine is imposed on them. Fining is easier than finding a solution. For mutual benefit both parties must come to a working relationship soon.

The enforcement officers of the commission would like to reciprocate the cooperation of the landowners and would avoid a strict adherence to the letter of the bylaws of the commission, unless there is no other choice.

Then there are the other buildings. Their compounds are overgrown with weeds and enveloped with creepers – a potential source of pests such as rats or even snakes. These are breeding grounds for the mother of all pests, the mosquitoes, especially the Aedes, carriers of dengue fever. And ghosts’ some people say.

Solutions

Should all the efforts of the commission fail to do something about the above problems, what can we do to save those buildings built at great expense?

Recently, I read about the Johor government reviving several housing schemes and offering them for sale to those who need them at an affordable price.

That’s one way of helping people to own a house they can call their own. While we may have no serious problem over here with houses built with funds from the government, there must be found a way out for abandoned houses built by the owners of land but left unoccupied for certain reasons.

Either the commission arms itself with more power and authority with which to deal with this dilemma in a drastic manner or the state government itself must initiate a move, if it has not done so already, a scheme whereby those houses may be fit for occupation as soon as possible.

Government should buy land

One option is for the state government to buy the land on which these house stand, repair them, if repairs are needed, then sell or rent them to those people who need a roof above their heads at an affordable price.

Another is to commission a housing contractor to undertake the repairs or rebuild the houses in cooperation with the landowners; together, they may sell or rent out the property with reasonable rates to the poor squatters in the city and those who can afford to pay for a loan on a long-term basis. A special deal for the landless and the homeless in the city.

In this way, the houses will be occupied and the neighbourhood is kept clean, for health reasons, if nothing else. And the commission will only be too happy to collect the rates and other charges for its services. A win-win situation, isn’t it?

Guard that reputation

Kuching must maintain its reputation of being a clean and healthy city, not just for the tourists but for the residents themselves. This problem of abandoned buildings does not enhance that reputation at all; though small in number at the moment, the number may increase in time as more and more buildings are being built in the two cities like there is no tomorrow.

Like a Siamese twin, Kuching has two cities. Called by different names just to distinguish one from the other and an excuse to have two mayors, the chiefs of both local authorities have basically similar functions: to serve their respective rate payers as efficiently as possible.

The most prosperous city in terms of revenue collection is in the south and its less affluent sister is in the north whose seat of power is  ‘across the river’, the hub of the rich and the famous in Sarawak.

So in terms of reputation of being clean, the twins must work as twins do: in concert to maintain the reputation which is indivisible. This problem of abandoned buildings in either council’s jurisdiction is in the way of the maintenance of that reputation.

Rubbish disposal

Those abandoned buildings and associated problems that they cause together with the poor disposal of refuse in areas outside the cities are too much to be lumped into one article, though these are part and parcel of the capital. However, it is enough to admit that as residents of Kuching no matter where you live – city boundaries are irrelevant in matters relating to health and general welfare – we have amongst us some most disgusting litterbugs. Can they be identified, stopped, and re-educated?

Zero abandoned houses

Go for zero empty or abandoned houses in each city council, North and South. I have seen a few houses forlorn and deserted in the MBKS area as well. May be the Kuching South City Council has found a solution to the problem of such buildings in its jurisdiction. That’s probably why the mass media people have not been invited to view those houses as DBKU did recently.