‘Trespassers’ pushed out of homes by affordable housing project

They have been dubbed the trespassers. The 200 or so families who moved to Ingalaing when it was only an underdeveloped, unutilised field on the fringes of Yangon have now found themselves in the middle of a turf war.

As the city expands, developers are eating up the no-longer-so-far-flung plots in Hlaing Tharyar, and attempting to rectify Yangon’s chronic housing shortage.

The makeshift huts dotting Inga laing field are being ousted to make way for affordable housing with a price tag far above what they can pay.

The 293-acre Kyan Sit Min Housing Estate is the government’s fourth major “low-cost” development. Started this past February, the project intends to accommodate 3174 apartments across a series of 85 five-storey buildings with an estimated completion date in early 2017. The Ministry of Construction has pegged one-third of the apartments as low-cost housing, with the lowest-end price tag of K10 million.

The first phase of the project, or 194 apartments, is scheduled to hit the market in December. But as the deadline looms, it seems an increasingly difficult target to meet, with ministry officials blaming the trespassers for planting new houses on land earmarked for the housing estate.

“The construction is being delayed because the trespassers’ houses are in the way,” said U Min Aung Aye, deputy director of the Department of Human Settlement and Housing Development (DHSHD).

“A negotiation will be held with the relevant township administrators and organisations to solve the problem. The trespassers will be checked to see if they were living there before [the new government’s ban on ‘new squatters’] in May. There are a lot of difficulties,” he said.

U Min Aung Aye has said that developers in Hlaing Tharyar have to battle what he calls “speculating squatters” who pay families to move in to desirable property. He claims that after the Kyan Sit Min housing project was announced, overnight 300 huts appeared.

But the alleged trespassers tell a very different account.

“We are from Myingyan in upper Myanmar. We are an older couple. We bought our land in the last two years. The price for our plot [about 20 feet by 40 feet] was K400,000 at the time. We did not know about the project then,” said U Mya Maung. “We are called trespassers … We bought this land because we had nowhere else to live. I think the government needs to do something and provide us somewhere to relocate to if the company wants this land, because even if we sell our plot we will not have enough money for rental fees and cannot afford to live in these flats they are building.”

Most of the trespassers who live in Ingalaing said they had bought their land from farmers about three years ago. They said they have never had any interaction with the Department of Human Settlement and Housing Development, or any of the other government branches. They get their electricity through neighbourhood generators, and have dug their own wells to access water.

“When they came to build the Kyan Sit Min housing no one came to negotiate with us ‘trespassers’,” said Daw Hla Kyi, another resident of Ingalaing. “If the authorities force us to move, I expect them to at least provide replacement land. I have five children and some are school-aged. The whole place was only farmland when we bought this plot.”

But the developers say they have the paperwork to back up their claim to the land for the Kyan Sit Min project. The area was slated for the new city expansion project, and before that it was purchased by the Yangon State Law and Order Restoration Council on September 6, 1989, with farmers given compensation of K10 million per acre, according to the DHSHD.

The Kyan Sit Min Housing Estate was approved by the last government with the official greenlight given on July 31, 2012, in a letter sent from the Union government.

“Trespassers at a project site is not unusual,” said U Min Htein, director general of the Department of Urban Housing Development. “The construction project must go on and finish in the allotted time. A negotiation will have to be arranged so that the trespassers are satisfied and their needs met.”

While the previous government tended to address the unofficial tenants withbulldozers and plain-clothed enforcers kicking them off the desired property, the new government has vowed to alleviate the housing crisis without muscling families out of their homes. Yangon Region Chief Minister U Phyo Min Thein’s administration announced a three-pronged approach: a census, a “rehabilitation camp” and more affordable housing. But so far the strategy has not proved effective, and the few affordable units that exist have not been allotted to the neediest families.

More than 35,000 people applied for 1152 units in the Mahabandoola project, Yangon’s newest public housing development in South Dagon township. The apartments were doled out through a lottery system, but many successful applicants promptly sold or released their apartment.

For Daw Hla Kyi and her neighbours, the affordable housing meant to cater to their income level is not only financial untenable, but its creation is pushing them out of the only home they can afford.

“We will not be OK if they push us out, I think. The housing rental fees are so high,” Daw Hla Kyi said. “Besides, we bought this land by selling everything what we had.”


Source: Myanmar Times

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