Home ownership just a dream in Penang

Affordable housing, in recent times, has become a contentious and sensitive issue in the Pearl of the Orient.

For the record, state Town and Country Planning and Housing Committee chairman Jagdeep Singh Deo is engaged in an open exchange with Penang Gerakan Youth legal and public complaints bureau chief Jason Loo on the matter. He is also on the warpath with Penang Federal Action Council chairman Datuk Seri Zainal Abidin Osman.

I chatted with a friend recently regarding the so-called affordable housing scene in the state.

I asked if he could afford to get himself a RM290,000 750 sq ft home in Penang. Yes, that is supposed to be affordable. With a basic salary of RM3,200 and a little more than RM800 in fixed monthly transport allowance, he told me it was way beyond his means. I also had the opportunity to talk to others who shared similar sentiments.

One clear conclusion that can be drawn from the discussions is that Penang houses are not meant for Penang people anymore.

The public is wondering how they can afford to purchase houses in many of the new property projects, especially along the Tanjung Tokong, Tanjung Bungah and Batu Ferringhi tourist belt, which are priced at millions of ringgit each.

These houses, many feel, are built only for the who’s who, the rich and famous and the expatriates. Many of them, too, feel that the Penang government no longer has the people’s interest at heart.

A survey conducted by a news portal in 2013 revealed that Penang was more expensive to live in compared with Kuala Lumpur. The same survey also showed an individual would require a monthly income of RM4,000 to survive on Penang island, given its high rental and expensive goods.

Penang Gerakan has since launched the “CAT IS DEAD — Overcharged Affordable Home Scheme” campaign to reveal numerous issues plaguing the affordable housing scene in the state.

CAT refers to the then Pakatan state government’s often-preached mantra of competency, accountability and transparency.

Through the campaign, Loo vowed to expose “controversies” in the implementation of the state’s affordable home scheme. Just a few weeks back, he revealed how a developer had overcharged for its affordable housing projects in Paya Terubong and Sungai Nibong in Bayan Baru.

In the Paya Terubong project, a unit measuring 750sq ft is priced at RM292,500, an 850sq ft unit at RM331,500 and the largest unit, at 1,000sq ft, is priced at RM390,000.

And all Jagdeep could say was that the prices were set before the state affordable housing price scheme came into force.

Under the affordable housing scheme, the official ceiling price for a 750sq ft unit is not more than RM200,000 on the island and RM150,000 on the mainland.

An 850sq ft unit should not cost more than RM300,000 on the island and RM200,000 on the mainland while for a 900sq ft unit, the ceiling price is not more than RM400,000 on the island and RM250,000 on the mainland.

Yes! It took the DAP-led state government more than six years, after assuming power in 2008, to realise the need for such a scheme. What was the state authority doing all the while?

And with the scheme in place, are not all developers bound by it?

Is it even justifiable for Jagdeep to use the excuse that the unit prices were set before the scheme came into being?

Surely, the state had known that the scheme would be implemented. Why didn’t it make provisions for developers, whose projects were launched just before that, to be bound by the same scheme?

Several housebuyers in both projects have complained about the price discrepancy. Who is supposed to hear them out? It is not fair for the state authorities to just wash their hands off the matter.

Jagdeep recently defended the state’s record in providing affordable housing units for the people, saying that of 6,000 applicants, 3,396 were offered such units in the last six months.

A total of 12 projects by the state government will add 22,512 affordable housing units to the market by 2025. Even the private sector has committed to building some 12,606 units. Some 15 per cent of the total units are in the RM200,000 to RM300,000 range, while the rest are at the RM300,000 to RM400,000 range.

For Penang Institute fellow and urban studies head Stuart Macdonald, the affordable housing prices from RM300,000 to RM400,000 in the island are still too high. The price of an affordable unit should be between RM180,000 and RM240,000, three to four times the average household yearly income, which is in accordance with international benchmark pricing for an affordable housing unit.

Although the state government has announced several affordable housing projects recently, the people have yet to see any of them being delivered.

Only time will tell when my friend and the tens of thousands of other Penangites out there can finally own their dream home. - By NST

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