Urgent need to address shortage of affordable houses


C_PC0012605When an election approaches a host of problems are highlighted by the opposition which are countered with either denials or promises by the government lawmakers or aspiring candidates.

The usual litany of grouses such as poor roads, lack of water and power supply, poor conditions of school buildings being highlighted seem to overshadow the issue of affordable housing in the clamour by aspiring election candidates to garner support from the people.

The steep climb of house prices coupled with the rising cost of living has rendered owning a house for many people an impossible dream.

The situation is compounded by stringent conditions imposed by banks for housing loans which make it extremely difficult for house buyers to finance purchase of houses.

Ironically despite the large number of people who do not own houses there is actually no shortage of houses in the state.

Housing Minister Datuk Amar Johari Tun Openg revealed last Monday there is actually a glut of houses but these are priced at RM400,000 and above which is beyond the means of the average house buyers.

What the state is facing now is acute shortage of affordable housing which cost RM300,000 and below.

While the government has done much to address the problem of house ownership for the low income group through low cost housing schemes and Rumah Mesra for the hardcore poor, not enough has been done to help the middle income group.

These are people who cannot qualify for low-cost housing schemes but do not have the means to buy the higher end houses and can only afford houses priced below RM300,000.

However, it is impossible for private housing developers to build houses in that range given the high prices of land and building materials compounded by rising labour cost.

The severity of the shortage of medium-cost housing was reflected by public response to properties developed by Syarikat Perumahan Negara Berhad’s (SPNB) a government linked housing agency in the state.

SPDB commenced its involvement in Sarawak in 2004 and completed its first medium cost apartment in Kota Samarahan called Vista Ilmu in 2010 with prices ranging from RM89,500 to RM99,500 which were snapped up by buyers.

SPNB then built 963 units of medium cost houses in Miri and these were sold out  in less than two years after the launch of the project.

The response from house buyers to its latest housing project within Bandar Baru Permyjaya in Miri was astonishing.

More than 80 per cent of the properties comprising 789 units of single- storey terrace houses, single-storey semi-detached house and single-storey bungalows, with prices starting from RM188,000 were booked on the sales launch of the project on April 2.

SPNB has built more than 3,600 units of affordable homes in the state so far and plans to build another 5,270 units come in Miri and Kuching.

What SPNB has done so far has helped eased the shortage of affordable housing especially for the middle-income group in the state. However, much more need to be done and the onus is on the Housing Ministry to work with private developers to explore ways to build houses for the middle-income and low-income groups to address the acute shortage of houses for them.