By ABDUL AZIZ ISA
COMMENT: The Sarawak state government should learn from its Penang counterpart and provide more affordable houses for the people.
Housing has always remained a critical issue as it is a basic necessity; not LRT (Light Rail Transport) or digital village, but the lack of affordable housing has yet to be properly addressed by the Sarawak State government.
Providing more affordable houses will enable more locals, especially first-time buyers and young families from the low and middle income groups, to own their first home at an affordable price. However, it is doubtful whether the BN Sarawak state government has the competency and ability to really build affordable houses for the people in the state, like what DAP-led state government is doing in Penang.
Sarawak should be more serious in addressing the housing issue faced by the low and middle income groups. This is because there is a huge difference between the number of houses planned and the number of applicants. The biggest problem our state is facing right now is the high rejection rate of housing loans involving the low income group who wants to purchase limited housing unit under the Housing Development Corporation (HDC) programme.
Over the past years, 40 per cent of first-time house buyers applying through HDC were not able to secure loans from the local banks. The rigid and strict conditions imposed by banks for loans have further compounded the problem. This has caused a double whammy to the state as there is roughly around 35 per cent of Sarawak’s population are unable to afford homes below RM340,000, which is very alarming.
Taking the PH Penang state government led by DAP as an example, the Penang Affordable Housing scheme which was officially initiated in February 2013 has made the small island state an ideal example for affordable home projects. To date, 20,887 units of affordable houses have been built by Penang government since it took over the state from BN.
Currently, the State government together with Penang Development Corporation (PDC) have 14 affordable housing projects in the pipeline which will see 26,225 units of affordable housing type A (formerly known as low cost), type B (low medium cost) and type C (affordable housing in the price range of RM150,000 to RM300,000) being built for Penangites.
This year alone, some 18,387 units of affordable housing schemes have been approved by Penang government that will be built by private sectors which ranges from RM42,000 to RM300,000. Thus, by the end of this year, Penang will hold a record of providing nearly 50,000 affordable houses since it came to power 9 years ago.
Furthermore, the prices of affordable houses in Penang are much lower than those in Sarawak making it more affordable for the people in the small state. This has made first-time buyers in Penang to easily secure housing loans from the local banks compared to the first-time buyers in Sarawak.
So, what can our BN Sarawak state government learn from Penang? Can Sarawak require the private developers to build affordable houses up to 30 per cent of their development, preferably terrace houses, if the land being developed is five acres and above?
The BN Sarawak state government should:
• reduce the affordable housing price under HDC programme to ease first-time buyers to secure housing loans from the local banks;
• increase the supply of affordable housing to bridge the gap between supply and demand through mandatory private sector participations;
• cater the housing needs of the low and middle income communities, and;
• improve the minimum specifications of the low-cost housing units to meet higher expectations of the house buyers.
The Sarawak government should not only rely 100 per cent on the private housing sector to continue to be the main source of housing supply in the state. Sarawak is blessed with abundance of natural resources and our state financial reserves stand at RM30 billion. So, why can’t the state government allocate 10 per cent of our state financial reserve to provide affordable housing for Sarawakians?
If Penang can provide an affordable house at a cost of RM42,000 despite land scarcity and lack of natural resources, then why can’t our Sarawak BN state government led by PBB provide affordable houses with lesser cost than that of Penang for the people of Sarawak?
What is the best way to deliver a high quality housing house with lower costs to all Sarawakians?
If Sarawak state government allocate 10 per cent of its financial reserves to build affordable houses at a cost of RM40,000 with three bedrooms, this means that we can build 75,000 units of such houses for the low and middle income groups in the state.
As far as I am concerned, Sarawak has a vast area of state land for our people and there should be no problem for the state government to provide more affordable houses at the cost of RM70,000 as land is not an issue. Unless of course if the state land has been reserved for private developers and their cronies for luxurious projects.
• Abdul Aziz Isa is Special Assistant to Chong Chieng Jen, Sarawak Pakatan Harapan Chairman