GEORGE TOWN: Penang is setting up its own Penang Housing Board (PHB), modelled after the successful Singapore Housing Development Board (HDB) and Hong Kong Housing Authority (HKHA) in a long term bid to streamline the development of housing and plan more affordable housing in the state.
While the housing boards in Singapore and Hong Kong, both islands, were set up in 1960 and 1973 respectively, Penang is belatedly starting the ball rolling and hopes to build up its expertise and gather momentum over the years.
The state government is expected to table a motion at the legislative assembly sitting on Monday for the PHB to be set up as a statutory body.
With land for development in short supply on the island, affordable housing has been a scarce commodity. Developers, especially the major players, have preferred to focus on luxury homes and super condominiums to leverage on the high land costs.
The proposed housing board is envisaged to deal with all issues relating to government housing and also play an active role in private housing.
State housing committee chairman Wong Hon Wai told The Edge Financial Daily that currently the state housing department was under the purview of the State Secretary’s office.
“Due to the constant change in the civil service where officers come and go, the state government feels there should be a dedicated unit to oversee housing activities in the state.
“The current setup has a limited role and is only maintaining public housing schemes while the private housing sector is managed by the respective building management establishments.
“Once you have a housing board, it can play a prominent and collective role.
“We are looking at Singapore and Hong Kong which have dedicated statutory bodies with dedicated officers managing their housing boards.
“We hope to emulate them and to build up our expertise over the years with a similar model to oversee public housing as well as monitor the private housing sector.
“Under the federal constitution, housing comes under the common list [of federal and state jurisdictions] where state governments have the jurisdiction and power to set up a special body for housing.
“We need to have a dedicated statutory body with the power and jurisdiction especially for affordable housing.
“The board can introduce policies not only as a managing body for the public housing but as a policy making entity to fulfil the needs for housing and also to enforce policies for more affordable housing.
“The board will be the vehicle for us to jumpstart the process for more affordable housing in the state,” Wong added.
It is not immediately known how many employees would be deployed to manage the PHB.
The Singapore HDB is said to have over 4,000 employees while the HKHA is said to have double the number of staff.
Singapore HDB was set up 50 years ago, on Feb 1, 1960, during a housing crisis.
At that time, many were said to be living in unhygienic slums and crowded squatter settlements with only 9% of Singaporeans living in government flats.
Taking over from its predecessor, the Singapore Improvement Trust, HDB was tasked with solving the nation’s housing crisis.
HDB built 21,000 flats in less than three years and by 1965, it had built 54,000 flats. Within 10 years of its formation, the housing problem had been resolved.
HDB built cohesive communities within its towns with living environments provided including community spaces for residents.
Today, about 84% of Singaporeans are said to live in HDB flats. The latest rejuvenation programme undertaken is a 20- to 30-year plan to transform the HDB estates and towns into a world class living environment.
The HKHA on its part is the main provider of public housing in Hong Kong.
It was established in 1973 under the Housing Ordinance and is an agency of the government of Hong Kong. In the same year, the Resettlement Department and the Building Section of the Urban Services Department were merged to form the Housing Department, which acts as the Housing Authority’s executive body.
Aside from public housing, the HKHA is also responsible for the management of public rental housing estates, interim housing estates, transit centres, flatted factories and ancillary commercial and non-domestic facilities such as shopping centres, market stalls and car parks.
It also acts as the agent for the government when it comes to clearing land.
Hopefully, with a sole agency in charge of public housing, it will enable the state government to undertake more effective resource planning especially for affordable housing in the state.
With Penang being ranked on par with Kuala Lumpur as the eighth most livable city in Asia, the state government has expressed its wish to see more affordable housing for the middle income group.
To encourage developers to build more affordable housing, the state government has announced that it is reviewing the various charges imposed for projects with houses priced below either RM350,000 or RM300,000 for the island and either RM250,000 or RM220,000 for the houses on the mainland.
All this should augur well for both developers and the public. It is timely for the state government to regulate the housing sector and work via its agencies like the Penang Development Corporation (PDC) to build more affordable housing in the state instead of leaving the task to private developers.
This article appeared in The Edge Financial Daily, October 29, 2010.
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