Khazanah Institute project helps low-income group stay in city centres

suraya-khazanahKUALA LUMPUR: A pilot project in Penang by Khazanah Research Institute has enabled people from the lower-income group to continue living in cities.

This model can now be used to solve similar problems faced in other places like Old Town in Ipoh and Kampung Baru in Kuala Lumpur.

The institute’s director of research, Suraya Ismail, said the model would see the setting up of a community development fund to stop those unable to afford higher rentals from being pushed out of cities.

She said the 10-month pilot project in George Town had allowed six families, living in substandard homes on Armenian Street, to continue living there.

She said the owners had wanted to upgrade the homes and increase the rent to RM800, which would have forced the families to move out in search of cheaper premises.

The hike in rent was attributed to George Town’s elevation to a Unesco World Heritage site.

Based on her research, Suraya said, between 2007 and 2009, the number of residents in George Town had fallen from 18,660 to 10,159.

“Prices paid for heritage buildings were 2.3 times more than for a double-storey pre-war shophouse.

“This was followed by a drop in the number of residents, accompanied by a hike in the number of hotels and tourist accommodations.”

Khazanah’s intervention stops low-income group from leaving cities

Talking about the institute’s involvement with the tenants in Penang, Suraya said in September 2010, the trustees of the Hock Teik Cheng Sin Temple on Armenian Street had requested a grant from a group called Think City for the physical restoration of the temple.

Khazanah came to know about this and the problems faced by nearby tenants. The Hock Teik Initiative, named after the temple, was started by Think City and the Asian Coalition for Housing Rights (ACHR) and documented by Khazanah.

First, Suraya said, Khazanah identified the needs of both the owners and the tenants.

“Once the problems were identified, which included leaks in the roof, a tenant-owner workshop was held to determine the rent.”

A community development fund, using mostly money from Think City, was then set up to repair the roof, flooring and gutters.

After negotiations, the tenants agreed to pay RM400 per month as rental for 10 years. They also agreed to pay RM10 a month as deposit for future repairs after the expiry of the 10-year agreement.

Moving forward

Suraya said the fund, which could be placed under the care of local authorities, could be set up in other places facing similar problems.

“The funds could be generated from big donors, who could be given tax exemptions, to help lower-income groups settle their problems.”

Suraya said Khazanah Research Institute would be approaching the governments of other states, such as Perak, to use this community initiative to settle such issues, especially in Old Town, Ipoh.