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Movement restrictions worsen cramped conditions in low-cost homes

Photograph: Choo Choy May/Malay Mail

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The restrictions on movement outside the home are making life even more difficult life for residents of already cramped low-cost flats, JD Lovrenciear writes.

Public healthcare providers, the police and the military are doing their best to help Malaysia combat the coronavirus, which has already seen 3,333 cases tested positive with 53 deaths (as of 3 April 2020).

But we also need to tackle the problems of the bottom 40% of households who live in low-cost flats all over the country.

These low-cost high and medium-rise cubicles served the nation’s plan to make home ownership possible for tens of thousands of Malaysians. 

But they have now outlived their original purpose. The movement control order has exposed how difficult life is for the residents.

Opinion leaders had previously highlighted the poor state of these dwellings. Police statistics have also shown a high presence of crime in such housing areas, which lack decent liveable space and amenities. 

Some media have highlighted the problems of overcrowding, pest infestation and neglected buildings that the poor have to put up with in their homes. Add to that the movement control order and the ordeal in these cubicles could be beyond imagination.

It is time for the government to address this problem with firm political will.

Swathes of prime land have been sold to private firms for them to build premium high-rise commercial buildings and resplendent homes for the upper class (including foreign buyers) – all in the name of progress. 

But the bottom 40% have been left without much of a choice. Eventually their low-cost dwellings will turn into slums, leading to social problems. 

We need to do away with revamp such ill-conceived dwellings. Providing landed property using building materials that are cost effective is possible. A tour of the internet will tell you that homes with small grounds can be built at a cost far below RM100,000.

But it needs courage to be creative and to be free from the tentacles of the construction and building industries.

We have an efficient military with great engineering capabilities. We have government-linked builders who also have the expertise.

Our government – including state bodies can release land at low cost to build decent and affordable housing for the low-income group. 

Why not? When the bottom 40% have decent homes, we empower them to see their children do well in life.

We talk about creating a caring society. But when we fail to transform housing for the poor, it is a shame.

Hopefully, this will be a critical item on the government’s agenda in the post-coronavirus phase.

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