Happy homeowners vote safe

SEPTEMBER 19 — Revelation.

A sure-fire means to win Malay votes in the next election, one which excludes and exceeds mammoth rallies.

Give them homes.

To be precise, for Pakatan Harapan to build affordable and low-cost homes which the vast majority can afford in localities beneficial to their economic dynamics with financing.

If it materialises by the next election, this government wins and by doing so, changes the dynamics of national politics.

The better way to appease Malays baited by Umno-PAS’ simplistic “Malay under threat” approach is to overcome perceived sadness with actual happiness, which would be homes.

Twenty-six million in the next election, and most of them first-time and younger voters. And to them, it’s not the Umno song or Anwar Ibrahim’s black eye, but their own futures that matters.

Nothing assures young families better than a place to call home.

The housing and local government minister points occasionally to the National Housing Policy 2018-2025. The intention to focus on affordable homes, the B40 and build-then-sell structures are useful, but this is a longstanding problem inherited from the previous government.

All governments want to have these homes up, because they engender goodwill which translate to votes. Yet why are they failing?

The Edge Property says the situation requires a “meaningful surge in household income, decline in house prices or more positive measures introduced.”

The government offers to help those earning less than RM2,300 per month for their first home, with guaranteed 3.5 per cent interest, and over 35 years the loan taker services RM570 a month.

But these are low-cost homes, homes which the buyers seek to get out of as soon as they can. The services and care at these blocks drop exceedingly quick after the keys are handed over to buyers.

It is in the affordable homes section, the houses worth around RM300,000 which the government aims to boast about. The middle-class havens for better-living young professionals. The Malaysian dream.

Pakatan intends to fulfil a million dreams in the next 10 years.

But with salaries not rising quick enough or house prices not dropping fast enough, the RM25 million to Cagamas Berhad (National Mortgage Company) was expected to assist those earning below RM5,001 to get bank loans. Many remain sceptical of the programme.

While low-cost homes are stopgaps, the affordable homes are intended as vote-banks. Which is why the minister Zuraida Kamaruddin speaks about 900sq feet sized homes. Enough space for them to make the apartment into a home rather than symbols of despair.

Conversions

Local councils need to do more.

All housing developments need council approval. The mismatch of development to need surely falls squarely at the councils where their opaque processes and incestuous relations with developers force decisions absent of residents’ needs.

For now, the full board meetings are held in near secrecy. This is where Petaling Jaya City Hall and Subang Jaya Municipal Council, for instance, vote on the development sub-committee’s recommendations on future developments.

Locals understand local situations. If greater transparency was practised, bad mistakes can be avoided.

More so, councils can begin to remedy their past errors. Every failed or half-filled development costs the council.

Which leads to a hybrid shift, councils and other developers can consider. Conversion. There’s an office building in the city which was initially intended as a hotel.

When they felt it would do better as offices, they refurbished it. Which explains certain weirdness in its design.

Driving in the suburbs across the Klang Valley the office space glut is there to be seen. Councils made the situation happen, perhaps they can talk with developers and seek ways to utilise them for the more persistent problem, housing for the middle- and working-class.

In my office building, many live in the units. A sort of SOHO (small office, home office) without the paperwork.

There are problems resulting from it, like the smell of South Asian cooking in what was supposed to be an office pantry from the unit below, and a crowded scene of men in various stages of disrobe at the unit across in the morning.

I’m not asking for offices to be let as homes, but when there are blocks of disused business premises, the typical failed shop-lots, can they not be turned carte blanche into homes?

Homes, soon

The key point here is that every minister even before Zuraida promised to fix the problem. However, a low-wage economy engineered by our fourth prime minister has stayed on while house prices ballooned in a generation.

I have the sneaky feeling that Pakatan, not Zuraida alone, are applying too much carrot and not enough stick when dealing with the developers.

Some claim that Rehda (Real Estate and Housing Developers’ Association) has found its speed with the new government, which is often not good news for the normal consumer.

There is a reason why the system has failed for so long, and surely a solution has to be disruptive to the public-private relationship and land on a more equitable and desirable arrangement.

The ministry must extend more autonomy and responsibility to the local councils to resolve the ad hoc environment inside their administrations which have brought us to this distorted reality: too many office spaces and high-end developments and inaccessible “so-called” affordable homes.

Developers, local councils and the ministry, negotiate solutions at both Putrajaya and also at the various city-town-district administrative stops.

Any progress in housing will be verified by communities quite quickly, for home ownership is a staple for community conversation. It slips into the discussion in haste and discoursed forever, because it meets a critical need of humanity, shelter.

If the B40 — mostly Malays — see affordable homes as a possibility under the Pakatan government, their appreciation shoots up immediately.

Even for the under-25 voters, who mushroom after the vote age lowering and automatic registration, since they too begin to eye their future with a home in the centre of their ambitions.

So the next time the Malay right wingers begin their vitriol about race and hate, rather than compete with them or rebut them, Pakatan leaders need to keep talking about the homes they are building.

Or just pull out a folder with pictures of new homeowners and parade them. It tells the whole story by itself.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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