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Former squatters in dire straits

By YIP YOKE TENG, The Star, 11 May 2009

IN a move towards the Zero Squatter programme, the Selangor state government has over the past years moved thousands of squatters out of their houses and placed them into concrete blocks built under the Projek Perumahan Rakyat (public housing programme) or the PPR flats. They were told to stay at the PPR flats for at the most two years while waiting for developers to build low-cost flats, which they can buy at an offer rate, at their original addresses. The term “transit home” is used widely to convince the occupants that their stay at the PPR, or in some cases in the form of a longhouse, is temporary. However, many are staying there for almost 10 years now but the homes they were promised are nowhere in sight as the projects are abandoned for one reason or another.

According to official figures, 1,268 ex-squatter families are still waiting at the PPRs in Lembah Subang, Kota Damansara, Hicom Shah Alam and Serendah (refer to table) for their permanent homes.

The fact that there are about 144 abandoned housing projects involving 45,449 units in the state also explains why the situation is so stagnant.

While squashing squatter zones, the move has ironically created urban slums where thousands of residents are forced to put up with woes ranging from hygiene, safety to basic amenities, on a daily basis.

StarMetro visited Lembah Subang near Kelana Jaya and Taman Petaling Utama in Old Klang Road, both under the jurisdiction of the Petaling Jaya City Council (MBPJ), to learn about the predicament of the temporary occupants there.

PPR Lembah Subang

The PPR Lembah Subang in Taman Putra Damai building is in a sorry state with sewerage stench emitting from dust-caked drains, remnants of perishables strewn around and slimy moss accumulating under leaking pipes.

With such deplorable condition, the occupants are exposed to high risk health problems.

“We know of at least eight dengue cases and our children are vulnerable to such conditions. It used to be worse with sewerage seeping out from clogged drains but we solved that through gotong-royong and the new contractor appointed by MBPJ made our living conditions slightly better,” said dispatch worker Saravanan Karuppiah, 33.

“Still, we are suffering from various other problems and many of my relatives have stopped visiting me,” he added.

The dilapidated building turns creepy when night falls as lighting on the staircases and verandahs has been out for months. The elevators are always faulty, forcing occupants to climb the stairs to as high as 17 floors.

“The lift is the lifeline of the building. Many senior citizens and pregnant women are now confined to their homes as they are too weak to use the stairs. What happens when there is an emergency?” asked factory supervisor Gopal Ratnam, 36.

It is learnt that almost half of the 408 units there are vacant. Many of these have been reduced to rubbish dumps or haunts for drug addicts.

Gopal said complaints from occupants had not been taken serouosly.

“If you can stay, stay. If you cannot, move out. That was the reply I got from an MBPJ officer when I called. Look at the conditions here, we would like to ask the mayor to come and stay here with us!” he said.

Mat Khamis Jaafar, 43, a stock keeper, said the residents were from various squatter villages in Petaling Jaya. All did not expect to stay for more than two years.

“It’s our ninth year here now,” he said.

“We made many adjustments when we accepted the state government’s offer to move here, which is far from where we lived for decades. We are all anxiously waiting for our permanent homes but it seems we will be stuck here forever,” he added.

On top of these problems, the low-income occupants have suffered loss of some RM5,000 incurred from down payment, interest and penalty for the units promised. Moreover, after two years of free stay at the PPR, they have to pay rental of RM147 per month and that is to be revised to RM250.

PJS 1 Longhouse

IN addition to thieves and robbers, residents at the PJS1 Longhouse, Taman Petaling Utama, have to beware of other trespassers — snakes, leeches, monitor lizards and aedes mosquitoes.

The 40 families relocated from Kampung Muniandy have to live in an area overgrown with weeds and with murky puddles.

They refused to join their former neighbours who have moved to PPR Lembah Subang, or any other PPR, for fear that the authorities will overlook their case.

Some families have up to nine members squeezed into a small longhouse unit, with its fragile structure showing various signs of wear and tear.

They too thought they would stay here for two years but it has been nine years.

“We have been moved three times, from one set of longhouse to another, when the sites turned out to be unsuitable for us and when the developer could not build the low-cost flats we have paid down payment for,” said M. Sugumaran, vice secretary of PJS1 Petaling Utama Residents Association.

They have to move for the fourth time, before July, as the federal land on which they reside will be taken back for the construction of a school. The Hindu temple in the settlement will have to be relocated, too.

But the residents are determined to remain there so that their plight will stick out like a sore thumb to the irresponsible parties, unless and until they are given proper accommodation in the area.

“We will not move until they give us our houses, it is their fault. We are the ones suffering for their wrongdoings but we are blamed for being stubborn,” said single mother S. Karthik.

Like Karthik, her neighbours are from the lower-income group burdened further by the flats’ down payment, monthly interest, loan instalments as well as penalty for late payment.

Having waited for almost a decade, a number of them are near retiring age and are worried if they are still eligible to buy their long-awaited homes. Their names have also been blacklisted by banks.

One of them, M. Gunaselan, said: “The developer and authorities have failed us. They say they did not have the money to build the flats for us but they have the money to build all these commercial lots around us?”

A series of meetings have been organised by the relevant parties and several solutions have been proposed but the case is still pending.


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