Tragic start to housing portfolio

We begin with a post-GE14 snapshot from our federal and state housing portfolios:

PPR owners given 90 days to evict foreign tenants

We have a situation in Riffle Range

Residents protest eviction from PPR housing

Suaram slams Penang state government over eviction

Seven tenants evicted from PPR flats

Families of rent defaulters camp out in Komtar after eviction

Evicted residents camp out at Komtar with pillows

Two nabbed during protest over forced eviction

Cops hold two for obstructing eviction

PSM activist hauled up for protesting eviction

Two charged for obstruction over Pdg Tembak eviction protest

Drop the charges

That’s all about throwing people out of their homes, into the streets. Next, we look at further paper cuttings from the brand-new housing ministry, and the backlash:

Ministry seeks to relax housing loan rules

Easier home loans not solution to housing woes, say experts

‘Relaxed’ Housing Loan Policy Is Not The Best Solution, IDEAS said

Plan to ease loan process may backfire

Think tank: Don’t relax housing loan rules to beat property glut

New housing loan requirements in August, says Zuraida

It has been all about evicting tenants and relaxing lending rules. Given the clean sheet of paper, why taint the new government this way?

Is each of us fully aware of the tremendous power given to the hands of the housing ministries (state and federal)? That includes the power to construct as much as the power to destruct — constructing or destructing not only the housing domain alone, also constructing or destructing the entire nation.

If housing issues can be given a neat fix, much of the struggle with rising living costs would be resolved.

If banks relax lending rules further, that might not only aggravate the housing crisis – it could further inflate and eventually burst the housing bubble, blow up the banking system and lead to a full-blown financial crisis sinking the whole country and affecting the entire region — a destruction reaching far beyond the housing domain.

Do we consider accountability? Are decision makers ready to answer for the consequences a few years down the line?

Eviction

That the evictions go according to the law, that those tenants either defaulted or weren’t qualified for PPR in the first place so they must be evicted — if such are the straight lines we want to walk, and want to be seen walking, that exposes the cracks of the thunderous ubah call. Walking this straight line necessarily means colliding into dozens of others. We all understand how disastrous it would be if a road user disregards all crossing and merging roads — just because he or she can only drive in straight lines.

It is wrong to throw people into the streets without providing alternatives.

I am not talking about compassion here, which can be subjective, optional and extended only at the giver’s mercy. Best to argue evidence-based. In many cases eviction can be unlawful — the person or authority evicting wrongfully can be charged in court and sentenced by court. It is terribly naive to see only the tenants’ ineligibility and their default in serving rent, without considering their rights against wrongful eviction.

In evictions elsewhere, it is the authorities and landlords who get charged. In New Malaysia, it is the mediating activists who get charged – mediating activists just trying to fill the gaps where elected MPs fail. They are from Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM), a party wiped out by the ubah crowd.

PSM won not a single seat — yet still serving tirelessly without counting the costs. Note the stark contrast from others who missed appointments in new government: Gan Pei Nei focuses on clearing her name instead and Rafizi goes for entrepreneurship instead. This is an opportune moment to reflect on what we expect from the people’s representatives.

The word, ‘minister’, as a verb is to

– give aid or service [Merriam-Webster Dictionary]

– give help to or care for people [Cambridge Dictionary]

– attend to the needs of (someone) [Oxford Dictionaries].

Can we agree on these, or has the role been mistaken for power? Do we see the duty of care and the tremendous opportunities endowed upon the minister, or is the role a share of the power pie instead? Is this why component parties are stretching Mahathir’s original plan for a lean cabinet? Is the decision to increase the numbers based on the parties’ needs or the rakyat’s needs?

Let us now tune in to YB Zuraida’s statements in a Q&A session with NSTP:

– her goal is to help the people

– improving the people’s lives is her priority

– everything offered is within her capability

– she wants those with low-income to enjoy a comfortable life

– she views her role as a mandate given by the people to improve their lives

– that she will be able to perform a better job than her predecessor, God willing.

YB Zuraida also told Kini that community empowerment is her priority, that she would pay attention to the rights of minorities, indigenous peoples, and non-citizens to enjoy comfortable housing facilities.

When government servants go on those cool, free trips for meetings and conferences abroad, how comfortable do they feel representing a housing ministry that throws people out of their homes rather than provide homes? How comfortable do they feel bearing identity tags reading, ‘Malaysian Ministry of Urban Wellbeing, Housing and Local Government’? During PowerPoint presentations someone from the audience is going to ask, “Do you provide housing or remove people from their homes?”

It is naturally easier to send officers out on eviction outings, it is more challenging to sit down to study the problem, hold town-meetings, explore options, reduce unnecessary trial-and-errors and devise effective strategies.

When pounding on people’s doors, take a moment to wonder how many of them have previously been approached by colleagues in government service for protection fees. Do officers recognise the faces, or do those evicted just form a mass of ‘the same sort’, without individual identity? Are officers able to link the individual pleading face to the specific colleague who had made an attempt soliciting kopi money? Do officers even try to recall how frequent extortions took place between this colleague and this victim, between that colleague and that victim? Try mapping out the predator-prey relations according to the graph theory, we all would be lost in that spin of entanglement.

That straight line of evicting residents who defaulted on rent – consider how much of their monthly budget goes into your colleagues’ pockets. If you think it’s just a hundred bucks a month, that’s a gross under-estimate.

The biggest strain comes from housing

A large part of the living cost comes from housing. Make no mistake here, I’m referring to real and actual living-cost struggles. I’m not talking about those ‘rising living costs’ loosely quoted and gravely overused, as part of the election propaganda, by the rich who are just fighting for better bargains and trying to make every ringgit (out of their plenty) work harder for themselves.

A loan-free home would place families in solid ground, and much of the struggle with ‘rising living costs’ would disappear. Much of everything else would either be manageable or optional. That is why it is so critical to tackle housing woes strategically.

In terms of the gravity of living costs, food is secondary to housing. Food is by far more manageable. There are always healthy and economical options for food. Over the same years when the cost of roti canai rose from 40 sen to 1 ringgit (that’s 150%), the cost of homes rose from 300,000 ringgit to 3,000,000 ringgit (that’s 900%).

Moreover, it is far more feasible and practicable to run soup kitchens than to offer housing shelters. Likewise, persons and families would be far more ready and willing to resort to soup kitchens and food assistance than to resort to housing shelters. We already have soup kitchens and food assistance run by individuals, non-governmental groups and community-aware businesses.

Dissect the real difficulties of families struggling to make ends meet — mask out that noise from the middle class trying to win greater bargains. Resolve housing woes as a matter of top priority. This saving act would have far greater impact than waiving toll fees and abolishing GST.

Relaxing lending rules

We are not in a school classroom where teacher refuses our request, so we get our parents to exercise their authority to make teacher say yes. It is too naive a line of reasoning to think that since banks refuse loan applications, the government should exercise its power to tell banks they must approve loan applications.

It is also too simplistic to think that banks refuse to lend to the poor because banks can’t untung from the poor. Not so! Quite the contrary. Local lenders are already over-lending and many borrowers are defaulting. Many borrowers are kept awake in the nights by hefty interests banks happily untung from.

Some loan amounts are way beyond the borrower’s lifetime earnings – on possessions entirely unnecessary – selections coming from that habit of flipping through colourful catalogues. Many are already spending well beyond their means, joining Rosmah in spirit within one’s limited capacity. Lending is already too easy.

Elsewhere, governments impose stress tests on loan applications, so that banks do not approve loans in cases where the applicant’s ability to repay is uncertain. Ours sets out in the exact opposite direction.

If past lessons have been thoroughly studied, if risks have been assessed in-depth, present and defend the case, and be in an informed position to dialogue and debate. None is forthcoming.

Instead of cooling the bubble, do we want to inflate the bubble further? Instead of curbing speculation (where people buy properties to bet for price appreciation rather than to live in), do we want to encourage speculation instead? Have we forgotten how lethal this particular bubble can be?

House prices are already inflated well beyond the original worth and value. Prices have been whipped up purely by buy-sell activities, that’s how bubbly the market has grown. Recall that homes rose 900% in price when roti canai rose just 150%.

Zuraida is also determined to build one million houses immediately (at the same time addressing the property overhang of 34,532 units of unsold houses worth RM22.26 billion?) Building more houses is unjustified until and unless there a current inventory is documented, its projections calculated, and the efficiencies maximised.

It is alright (and sometimes great and groundbreaking) to set out in the opposite direction – but we must first be in full awareness of existing knowledge, we must have a good grasp of existing wisdom, and be able to explain why the preferred route less travelled will be better than the conventional.

The ministry shouldn’t need those alarms raised by Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (IDEAS) and the National House Buyers Association (HBA) — even a layman on the street would know as general knowledge and common sense all too obvious.

The rakyat has the right to demand for a housing solution which doesn’t increase loan burdens. Can we hear from our top experts why housing co-operations do not worth a consideration or even mention?

It is time to wean off those segregating ideas about low-cost housing. Housing co-ops are not just for the poor. It is for anyone who commits to community living. Many housing co-ops house artists. Having a roof over one’s head is a basic right. Remove that element of profit from housing provision. Get back to the original cost before mark-up. Bring back that element of community sharing. Let occupants contribute towards the cost, pay as one goes, move on when need be, forget about renting and owning.

The ubah crowd promised that all appointments would be by merit and only top experts would be appointed. Big words as usual, lacking in specificity. Does appointment by merit mean only persons with extensive experience and proven track record in housing would be given the job? Well, Jagdeep Singh Deo does have extensive ‘experience’ and he is accumulating more — despite making a trail of disqualifying statements, going against the truth and infringing human rights.

The rakyat deserves better and we beg Zuraida not to stoop so low.

It has been a tragic start to the housing portfolio — evicting families and inflating the housing bubble. Calling this a disappointment is a serious under-statement. As we know from sports training, prompt corrections are always most critical.

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