Promised homes in 1982, longhouse residents continue to wait… and wait

For the last 36 years, settlers of the Taman Rimba Kiara (TRK) longhouses have been waiting in anticipation for the government to build them permanent homes. (Youtube screengrab)

KUALA LUMPUR: For 36 years, descendants of rubber tappers have been waiting for the government to fulfill its promise of finding them permanent homes.

What they have gotten instead are dilapidated wooden houses, uncertainty and the risk of having to vacate even their current “temporary” homes due to proposed developments on the Taman Rimba Kiara land.

Third generation settler Sivakumar Muniandy, 49, said for the last 36 years, settlers of the Taman Rimba Kiara (TRK) longhouses have been waiting in anticipation for the government to build them permanent homes.

Sivakumar Muniandy.

In 1982, Sivakumar recounted that the Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL) then “temporarily” relocated families from the Bukit Kiara Estate to the longhouses after the government acquired the rubber estate that is now known as Bukit Kiara.

“I have been living here since I was 11, since we were relocated from the Bukit Kiara Estate when the land was acquired back in 1982 by the government.

“Then, the government said we only had to stay here temporarily. It has been 36 years now, And now we are facing another hurdle – being forced to shift into a 29-storey-condominium – something which the older generation cannot afford to maintain,” Sivakumar told FMT in an interview.

The proposed development in question is a joint-venture between Memang Perkasa and Yayasan Wilayah Persekutuan (YWO), where the project comprises eight blocks of luxury serviced apartments, and includes a 29-storey block featuring 350 affordable apartments, 200 units of which are reserved for the relocation of the longhouses families.

“But we don’t want serviced apartments to be our future home. How do you expect an 80-year-old lady to afford maintenance fees?

“Most of them who live here are not very well-to-do as it is. They cannot even afford repair works to their wooden houses. How do you expect for them to fork out maintenance fees?” asked Sivakumar.

Sivakumar recalled how the previous state administration had promised repeatedly each general election that it would build permanent homes for the settlers.

“The estate workers have contributed much to the development of the country. They deserve to be appreciated.

“We have waited for so long, and the idea of serviced apartments is just not suitable for the residents’ lifestyle here.

“Our question is, why can’t the government just fulfill its promise to us and build new houses for us on this 4.4 acres, instead of approving a mega project, which would destroy the surrounding peace?” asked Sivakumar.

Several other reasons why the longhouses residents have been opposing the idea of settling in a high-rise building include the fear of losing their heritage and cultural practises, and the inconveniences faced by the older generation.

“Each year during festivities, it is a very grand affair for us to celebrate as a neighbourhood and community who are all very closely knitted here.

“A lot of the celebrations are done together as a community and we will not have the same environment when we live in separate units on different floors in a high-rise building.

“Just like many other neighbourhoods which were dispersed in the past, we too will lose our community lifestyle should we be forced to shift into a high-rise building,” said Sivakumar.

Sivakumar also pointed out that the developer had only promised 100 free units for the longhouses settlers, while a second unit could be bought at RM175,000, which is 50% of the original price per unit.

“Do you really think that the elderly people here have that kind of money to spend on a housing loan?

“One hundred units will not be sufficient, as there are about 200 families who live here now. Currently, some families are sharing one unit here in the longhouses. The living condition is unacceptable.

“Imagine three generations living under one roof?” he said.

(From left) Selvaraju Selanthiran, Mookaiyee Thiruvengadam, Vasuky Karuppiah, Letchumy Nallayah and Punitha Suppiah are former estate workers from the Bukit Kiara estate.

When met at the longhouses, Sumathi Kuppan, 49, who works at the temple located in the compound, said she was grateful for a peaceful neighbourhood and hoped that all the longhouses residents would not be forced to vacate their current homes.

“We don’t want to live in a high-rise building. Most of the former estate workers here, including my parents, they are not young and they will not know how to move about a serviced apartment.

“Who is going to pay for maintenance fees? For a serviced apartment like what they have proposed, it would cost easily RM200 and above. We cannot afford it.

“What if the elderly people fall sick? Who is going to bring them down from their apartments and send them to the hospital? It is not a conducive environment for elderly people no matter how you look at it,” said Sumathi, indicating that all they could now was to pray for the best.

Another resident, Punitha Suppiah, 48, also agreed that moving into a high-rise building would mean losing the “community heritage”.

“We would end up in a very anti-social environment, where everyone will keep to themselves. Unlike now, if anything happens to my neighbour, I can always run next door to keep an eye on their parents who are in their 80s.

“There will be no space for us to carry out festivity activities. Gradually, all these will be forgotten when we cannot celebrate these festivities in an elaborate manner due to lack of space,” she said.

Letchumy Nallayah, 80 and Mookaiyee Thiruvengadam, 68, both former estate workers, said they had been waiting for so long for a proper home.

“The government promised us, but until today, they have not fulfilled it. We are still waiting, and hoping. We are not asking for much, but just want what was promised to us,” they said in Tamil.

Meanwhile, the Save Taman Rimba Kiara (STRK) group has since produced a draft plan, which proposes that up to 200 units of townhouses be built on the 1.78ha (4.4 acre) longhouses land.

Its working group coordinator Leon Koay said STRK had last year engaged with architects and engineers to come up with a plan which had proven that 200 units of townhouses could be built on the longhouse land instead of having to take up parts of the Taman Rimba Kiara (TRK) land.

“We showed this to the longehouse residents, and they are very happy with it. Now, our question is: why won’t the Federal Territories ministry take a look at this plan and consider building new homes for these settlers?

“For us, it is simple. It does not make sense to say that, in order to build houses for these settlers they have to bring in a mega project. Here, we have proven that, if they are really sincere in helping the setters (FT ministry and developer), they can build on the 4.4 acres of land where the longhouse currently sits,” said Koay.

He added that the argument presented by the government that there would be additional costs incurred should it build houses for the settlers was not valid.

“Back in the day, the previous administration had promised these settlers that it would build homes for them, but it never did. This is what the government owes the settlers. If this promise was fulfilled then, it would not cost as much as it will today,” he said.

Sivakumar, who has viewed the proposed townhouse units plan, said the residents were very pleased and hoped that the government would be able to adopt this plan.

“The proposed plan by STRK caters for the next generation even, and this is something Memang Perkasa is not able to do for free.

“The townhouse concept is something that is able to keep this community close together and it is our wish that the neighbourhood stays this way.

“We have stayed here for so long already, we are really hoping that the government will recognise us as a housing area and allow us to preserve this heritage – a heritage made of estate workers who once helped boost the country’s development and economy,” he said.

On Wednesday, Taman Tun Dr Ismail (TTDI) residents’ bid to overturn the conditional planning permission and development order by Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL) for the controversial high-rise residential project in TRK was denied by the High Court.

However, longhouse residents and TTDI Residents’ Association along with STRK have not given up and are planning to appeal the decision.