Issues on Sustainable Housing Development in Malaysia

I was reading up on a research publication by Prof Abdul Ghani Salleh from my School which is HBP USM, who does research on planning for sustainable housing development.  When we talk about Housing in this 21st century, it definitely has to do with globalization, that relates to urbanization and also thus, housing.  We see both globalization and urbanization interdependent. The growth of the world’s cities is caused by international and interregional migrations. Globalization today as we seen have brought numerous problems including major contradictions of industrial capitalism, spatial and class polarization (Friedmann 1986). 

There are generally three scales of spatial polarization, GLOBAL (Rich and poor gap), REGIONAL (Interregional inequality is higher than intraregional inequality), and metropolitan (normal spatial segregation of urban poor). All these are obvious today, in Kuala Lumpur alone we see that it’s often being emphasized on one way flows to the city rather out of it to sustain the rural resources. Uneven spatial development and rural neglect due to an increasing effort towards world city development (MUR Mega Urban Region). It’s always debated that City is the answer to efficient planning but it’s a paradox in this context that housing in the city has become a problem.

To what extent that our Malaysia housing system has incorporate elements of sustainable development? Not really as far as I have observed.

1) Sustainable Development means no one is left out in the development process. We have seen taglines, Cities for a better future, Better City Better Life, City for all. The basic objective of urban development is to meet human needs and achieve equity and social justice. Do we see that? I doubt so. I personally think that only a few has been privileged rather than the poor and deprived.

2) The current housing system encourages people to buy bigger homes. In economic terms, it may sound as good as to increase homes, increase infrastructures, thus attract foreign talents and trades to occupy these areas. But what we are looking at is a trend in which that suburban growth attracts the rich leaving the poor in the central area of the city in slumps or squatters. Most higher income group will have second home in Resort, Hill, Waterfront areas as a weekend away or investment purpose (Salleh, 1997). We see that the second housing loan and increased loan limits as announced in the 2001 budget has enabled them to do so. Have we seen equity for all to have a house at an affordable pace? Not yet.

3) Rapid Urbanization is often seen in a result of multiplication of squatter colonies in the urban fringes. And it may surprise you that it could just happen overnight (literally) to see squatters in places like highway junctions.. abandoned lands below the grid cables in Kuala Lumpur. This problem arises when Urban Rural migration has encouraged people to come and seek an opportunity of work but however without the availability of low-cost houses. Most of the migrants are in the low-income segment of the population who are not easily accessible to the formal low-cost housing sector. The only way for them is the fast and cheap way, squatter settlements.

4) The problem of low-cost housing is numerous too. Having the sufficient amount of supply of low-cost houses is never the answer to it. It’s the same as other middle or higher cost houses where the location is still a preference to the end users. Most of the time low-cost houses are located far away from a certain area without considering the end users as having the need of logistics and access as other citizens. This is because stereotypes of low-cost housing are about increased level of crime and thus pulling down surrounding property values.

5) The price of low-cost housing has been another issue as well. If we use affordability as a means to deliver houses for low-income groups, we may not be able to meet their basic housing needs as we know there is no such thing called GOOD quality low-cost housing. Squatter Eviction is NOT the way or solution as the number of low-cost housing unit is not only insufficient but also may not meet their needs.  Moral considerations should be taken into account in housing the poor. The current trend is the most of the low and medium income group is housed by private rented sector, which can be described as “paying more for less space and poor quality house” (Harloe, 1994)

6) The partnership is another issue in Housing Development. The government policy has much factor to deal about when it comes to a partnership between public and private sectors in housing. Local authorities are locating too much time on dealing with unnecessarily complicated regulations, controls and limitations, sometimes even unrelated to the real need of the big picture. Strict development and policy not only slows down development but eliminate potential development and FDIs. Planning as set out in Agenda 21 should be decentralized, participatory, responsive, accountable, realistic and imaginative (Triplle 1996)

We see a lot of these issues are relevant and realistic that could affect very much of the growth of Malaysia towards vision 2020 and others. Sustainable housing development is not only about providing houses for all, but it means a lot in the economy and social benefits for the people.

Yes it is not easy task to really build a city for all, in fact as in Malaysia it is hard for me to see the potential of us solving this problem as we see a very industrial monopolized strategy such as MM2h Malaysia My 2nd Home which attracted many foreigners to invest but however has neglected the basic shelters of low-income groups in Penang. Much to be done indeed.