IMAGINE the tragedy that would have befallen us had the cracks at Block F of the Keramat Pulai flats been dismissed and residents not evacuated.
Certainly, it would not have been as devastating as the 1993 Highland Towers collapse (triggered by a major landslide) or the vertical collapse (due to structural failure) of the Royal Plaza Hotel in Thailand, also in 1993.
Nevertheless, such tragedies should never be allowed to happen; it simply underscores the importance of building better and safer homes, not only for the Bottom 40 (B40) households, but for all Malaysians.
Over the years, homes for Malaysians with more modest incomes have been progressively upgraded.
For the B40 households, the homes have better designs; where once they were “low-cost”, now it is “affordable”. Logically, the next change would be “comfortable, decent or even dream homes”.
There has been much discussion over whether there is a sufficient supply of affordable housing and lack of home ownership.
Statistically, there are enough houses — property developers have been churning out houses at a healthy rate over the years, according to Khazanah Research Institute (KRI).
But are they “affordable”? Bank Negara Malaysia estimates the maximum affordable home based on our current income level is at RM282,000.
But most houses are priced above this, including “affordable” ones. How do we reconcile this?
The government may want to start a programme to redevelop homes and flats that are more than 30 years old via a government-private sector arrangement.
Under the National Housing Policy, the government is empowered to rebuild such homes to ensure the safety and comfort of residents.
The cracked Keramat Permai Flats is one example. The piece of land on which it sits is prime land. Residents took a strategic decision to purchase that piece of property.
They deserve a booster. The flats could be rebuilt with the original buyers not having to pay for the upgrade.
Profit for the venture can be derived from the sale at market prices of, say, two levels of the new apartment block.
Two former chief executive officers of government-linked companies who tossed this idea, pointed out that the first major decision would be to build spacious transit homes.
Once the first group moves into their new homes, another batch will occupy the transit homes. It is a means of upgrading the poor.
Ploughing money into education should be matched with sizeable investment in housing. For, the biggest housing link is the one to education. Much of this argument is rooted in self-esteem.
Build homes that do not push back a child’s self-esteem. The Kampung Kerinchi flats, completed in 2016, are an example of redevelopment.
Future housing projects should also be integrated townships with mixed communities to build multicultural nationhood.
It may be unhelpful for this newspaper to conjure up utopia; but dream we must. Consider Japan’s housing policy, which focuses on a home-ownership-oriented society where all the people get their own homes and public or social housing is a tool for helping to own homes.
Or Singapore’s organised housing scheme where home ownership is 93 per cent. Owning a home is more than just having a roof over our heads.
For most Malaysians it represents wealth, financially and emotionally. The ache for a home lives in all of us — poet and activist Maya Angelou.