By Chee How
“Prestige amidst nature’s bounty”
This is how CMS Property Development Sdn Bhd described Bandar Baru Samariang in its website promoting its houses.
How wonderful … but is it really?
Yasin is certainly not impressed by the advertising gimmicks.
He has lived in Bandar Baru Samariang for the last 10 years, one of the pioneers in the ‘new’ township. But he has been living in the ghetto, very much shielded from the high-end housing estates - even if the high-end estates themselves have little prestige to boast about.
Yasin’s family moved into the low-cost housing unit of RPR Samariang eight years ago. The family was overjoyed when Yasin’s father Pak Ali was allotted an intermediate terrace unit measuring 91 square metres, for the price of RM35,000.
“With the land given free by the government, we naturally expected a good house, worth RM45,000.00”, said Pak Ali, who now regrets leaving his former kampung house.
Bandar Baru Samariang was in the news last month when a strong wind blew across RPR Samariang, ripping away the roof tops of 80 houses.
“This is not the worst yet. We have just received a notice from the Housing Development Corporation (HDC), demanding that we pay up every single cent of our monthly housing installment arrears within 14 days, failing which we will be evicted from our house,” Pak Ali sounded troubled and depressed.
“An officer of HDC said that the same notice will be served on more than 150 families.”
“The officer warned us, ‘Don’t even think about evading service of the notice, we will not hesitate to put substituted service into effect, by simply publishing the notices in the press’.”
Indeed, two such notices have appeared in the Borneo Post on 21.07.2009.
The poorest of the urban poor
The Malay families are the poorest among the urban poor. More than 90% of this single, largest low-cost housing estate of RPR Samariang are allotted to and occupied by Malay families. Many are on the verge of losing their homes to the state-owned statutory corporation HDC.
In a last-ditch effort to save their homes, the low cost house owners have set up a residents’ action committee over last weekend, to plan and initiate collective actions to safeguard their interests and welfare.
Azahari Sahari, elected Chairman of the residents’ action committee, said that the committee’s immediate task is to hold dialogues with the HDC and the Minister of Housing. The discussions are necessary to explore the feasibility of the various solutions proposed by the committee, to resolve the tenants’ problems in keeping up with the monthly housing loan installment payment.
Visibly upset with the residents’ effort, the State Housing Minister Datuk Seri Abang Johari said that these residents who defaulted with their housing loans only have themselves to blame.
Responding to a question by reporters, the minister snapped: “Firstly, as there is no down-payment for a Perodua Kancil (the smallest national car), the families bought Kancil. Secondly, they all installed and subscribed to Astro (pay per view satellite television) which they need to pay monthly subscription. Thirdly, they all have mobile phones, even each of their children has one. In the end, they can’t service their housing loan installments.”
“Are they hoping that the houses be given to them free of charge?” the minister continued. “There are 400 families in Samariang RPR, only 10 families are facing the problem of eviction.”
We are appalled by the senior state minister’s unnecessary outburst and accusations leveled against the residents. The PBB Senior Deputy President is obviously ignorant of the adversities and hardship these poor families are facing.
There is no logic to say that low-cost house-owners should not own a Kancil, subscribe to Astro and have mobile phones. The minister made it sound like the house-owners are wasteful and had afforded themselves the luxury of Kancil, Astro and mobile phones.
The statement was shallow, but the intention is clearly to mislead the general Sarawakian public who know little about Bandar Baru Samariang.
The dreadful state of affairs faced by the poor RPR Samariang residents daily is the shocking fact that public bus services have yet to be extended to Bandar Baru Samariang! Furthermore, Telekom Malaysia has not extended its telecommunication services to the 1000-odd low-cost houses. There is no public telephone booth in sight.
With the desolated township located some 20 km away from the city centre and offering no employment opportunities, the residents of RPR Samariang are forced to travel a long distance to their workplaces. Is the Kancil a necessity or a luxury, under the circumstances?
Yasin and his neighbours are, therefore, understandably offended by the minister’s accusation.
“Abang Jo has no knowledge of our difficulties. The only time we were able to bring him to our dialogue with the HDC, he quickly delivered his speech and ran twice as fast, saying that he needs to attend a wedding. The HDC officials then hastily called off the dialogue because they did not know what to do with us,” said an elderly lady who is also threatened with eviction.
“We couldn’t afford a Kancil,” Yasin said, “I have only the second-hand motorcycle parked outside the house.”
Yasin especially felt hurt and insulted. He has to wake up earlier every morning to send his 3 children to their school in Kampung Gita, 10 km away, in one single motorcycle trip!
“I can’t afford the fares for their school bus. Neither can I pay for the petrol to make three trips. The traffic police had been sympathetic and have got used to seeing us ferrying two or three children to school on our motorcycles. They did not issue traffic summonses to us. For safety reasons, though, we have to wake up and hit the road early to avoid heavy traffic.”
“Some families have bought a Kancil, but that is to get them to work and to send their children to school. Most would provide a ride for their relatives and friends to share the burden of fuel expenses and car loan. The Kancil is a necessity, not a luxury.”
“Abang Jo is chauffeur-driven in his Mercedes, so are his children. I don’t think he understands our dilemma.”
“The Astro satellite dishes are deceiving. Many of us signed it up when Astro offered us free installation and equipments. However, we didn’t get to watch the programmes for long as we could not keep up with the monthly subscriptions. The satellite dishes are there just because nobody bothers to take them down.”
“I have a mobile phone but that is for the purpose of my work. I bought one for my eldest daughter mainly for security reasons. How I wish we can forgo them and use the money for our food.”
Abang Jo was born with a silver spoon. He was brought up and now lives in another world!
Yasin is working as a gardener with a statutory body. As the sole bread-winner in the household of nine members, he is earning a monthly income of about RM1,000.
“When my father retired as a school groundsman in 2007, he received his gratuity of RM6,000,” Yasin recalled.
“By then, our housing loan arrears stood at RM8,000. I took RM5,000 to HDC hoping to settle part of the arrears, but HDC refused to accept the money. They insisted that we settle the whole arrears, knowing full well that we cannot come out with the enormous sum.”
“An officer then suggested that my father could transfer the house to me and I could withdraw my EPF money to settle all the arrears. I agreed. However, it took them almost a year to come back to us. The HDC said that they will grant consent for my father to transfer the house to me. But they emphasised that they will not finance it. They asked me to get a housing loan from a commercial bank to redeem the property.”
“A bank agreed to grant me a loan, but only up to RM40,000. I have a small sum to withdraw from EPF, but the transfer will require me to pay for insurance and legal fees. When the arrears are added to this sum, whatever we have is insufficient to redeem the property. Then the HDC told me that they are not signing the consent for the sub-sale unless I can find about RM3,000 to cover the shortfall!”
“This is what HDC has done. I cannot understand why they would not allow my father to transfer half of his share in the house to me in the first place. That would have allowed me to withdraw my EPF and settle the arrears, two years ago. Now, we are in a fix. We have tried all our means to come up with money but it has never been enough for HDC. I believe they just want to get rid of us,” Yasin’s face was one of sorrow and agony.
“I think they will do it. Their lawyers have brought a bailiff and threatened to seal off Pufiah’s house,” Pak Ali added sadly.
What will they do if HDC comes to evict them?
“What can we do? We will camp outside the house, beneath the Satok Bridge or HDC office,” said a determined Pak Ali.
“People First? Performance Now?”
Maybe the RPR Samariang Residents’ Action Committee should try to meet Najib and seek his help when he is here for the Rulers’ Conference.