GEORGE TOWN: The families of workers living as squatters in an estate in Nibong Tebal for nearly 60 years today heaved a sigh of relief after the Penang government clinched a deal with a developer to build permanent homes for them for free.
The 80 families at Ladang Caledonia have been living in their estate quarters since the 1990s after the 6ha rubber and oil palm estate had been divided and sold over the years.
However, the landowners had failed to pay their quit rent and as a result, the entire lot was taken over by the Penang government in the late 1990s.
The government then applied to the federal government to build houses there but nothing materialised.
Today, Penang Chief Minister Inc (CMI) signed a deal with Eco World Development Group Berhad (Eco World) to build 272 single-storey, low-cost homes and amenities on 6.1ha adjacent to the estate for the families.
The project costing RM50.94 million will take off in March and will be built in two phases ending in 2025. The homes will have a 60-year lease as the land is state-owned through CMI.
Chief Minister Chow Kon Yeow said Eco World would undertake the project as part of their obligation to build affordable homes under their quota as required under state housing laws.
He said the 80 families would receive a free home each, while the rest of the units would be surrendered to the state housing department to be offered to eligible applicants at a cost of RM42,500 each.
The units would measure 650 sq ft and the project would feature a lake and landscaping rivalling Eco World’s high-end projects, he said before signing the agreement on behalf of CMI.
Eco World’s deputy chief executive officer, S Rajoo, who signed on behalf of the company, said the homes would have space for two floors with the addition of an attic.
At the same function, Deputy Chief Minister II P Ramasamy said the previous state government had agreed to provide homes for the estate workers but nothing materialised.
Caledonia Estate Residents’ Association chairman Thiagarajan Jayaraman, 64, described the deal as “the best news they had heard for a long time”.
He said some 500 people had once worked in the estate, and three generations were still living there.
“Our homes are in bad condition, with leaks everywhere. There are also many snakes and we feel unsafe.
“Most of us are forced to rent rooms elsewhere. Many of us are doing odd-jobs for a living,” he said.
Thiagarajan said although 80 families would be provided homes, 163 families had actually lived there, including those who had been displaced because of the living conditions.
“We hope that all will be given a chance to live in a proper home,” he said.
He also hoped that the government or the public could also help them rebuild a Hindu temple.