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How affordable housing can succeed [22-10-2012]  
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IMAGINE a cook without his pots, pans and utensils, can he still perform his duties of cooking a delicious meal for his clients?

We need essential tools and resources to accomplish our tasks even if we are skilful in our own profession. Same goes to the property industry.

With the market demanding more low and medium-cost housing, all stakeholders should look for the most effective ways in maximising the usage of our resources to build affordable housing and to meet the ever increasing housing demand.

In my article last month, we identified the root causes that influence the pricing mechanism of a housing project. These include the rising land acquisition cost, lengthy approval period, holding cost of unreleased bumiputra units and cost of building utility infrastructure.The next questions are:

What are the remedies available?

Which parties have the ability, expertise and resources to implement the remedies?

First of all, to address the issue of high land cost, the Government could tap onto the expertise of the private sector to develop government land as the land acquisition cost is much lower. Land can be fairly distributed to property developers through open tenders. This way, more homes can be built on a more affordable and effective manner for the people.

To increase the supply of affordable housing, the Government should also conduct a study to accelerate the development’s approval process by reducing the number of steps and the time involved (sometimes two to three years) in the approval process, have an automatic release mechanism for unsold bumiputra units, and remove the burden of utility infrastructure costs on developments, which should be borne by privatised utility companies themselves instead.

In the recent budget announcement, it is encouraging to see that the Government has proposed several measures to tackle the issue of affordable housing in Malaysia. The efforts include the allocation of RM1.9bil to build 123,000 affordable housing units nationwide and a RM500mil fund to build 80,000 houses priced between RM100,000 and RM400,000.

People and organisations that work on their areas of expertise are most likely to deliver outstanding results. Government agencies that have been working on affordable housing can build these housing effectively as they have both the expertise and resources.

On the other hand, though private developers have the expertise, the challenge of high land and material cost are the main hurdles in meeting the demand, just like the cook without his pots and pans. To meet the desired outcome, it is important for the Government to fund more government agencies with expertise and resources to embark on this initiative. I still recall in 1974, when I joined the Selangor State Development Corp (PKNS) as a director, the main objective of PKNS was to build mass housing for the people and to eliminate the shortage of affordable housing.

However, according to a recent article in The Star, PKNS today has also ended up venturing into high-end developments to subsidise its low-cost housing projects and infrastructure, as it no longer receives grants from the Government. This has inevitably distracted the corporation from delivering more affordable housing projects to the public.

Therefore, it is important for the Government to constantly revisit the original objectives of corporations such as PKNS and other SEDCs (State Economic Development Corporations), Syarikat Perumahan Negara Bhd, and 1Malaysia People’s Housing Scheme (Prima) that have relevant expertise, and continue funding them to build low and medium-cost housing.

Generally, people and organisations perform best in their areas of expertise. However, this must be backed with essential resources. If both the Government and private developers can leverage on each other’s expertise and resources, I believe we can work towards a more sustainable and affordable housing policy, and realise the rakyat’s dream of having their own homes.

In that way, the cooks can equip the kitchen with the right utensils to cook up a delicious meal.

FIABCI Asia Pacific chairman, Datuk Alan Tong, has over 50 years of experience in property development. He was FIABCI world president in 2005/06 and was named Property Man of The Year 2010. He is also the group chairman of Bukit Kiara Properties.

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