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Friday, September 03, 2010

For whom are Balik Pulau homes?

WITH its idyllic villages and sprawling fields, Balik Pulau has always been known as the quiet, rustic side of Penang island, fortified by green hills from the hustle and bustle of George Town and other urban areas.

But anyone who thought that the cost of living and housing in this mostly agricultural area would still be relatively low would do well to think again. Since the end of the 90s, developers have descended on the area, making it a target for luxury and medium-cost projects, due mainly to the scarcity of land in other developed parts of the island.

And today, housing in Balik Pulau is probably some of the most expensive in the country for rural and semi-rural areas – with prices ranging between RM300,000 and nearly a million per unit.

The high prices have come about so suddenly that they have raised the ire of locals, many of whom contend that the projects are targeted mostly for people outside the area.

The situation climaxed recently in a livid diatribe by the MP for Balik Pulau, Yusmadi Yusoff, who said that residents of the district have become "mere spectators" as luxury housing projects way beyond their means crop up around them.

Yusmadi’s echoing of the concerns of Balik Pulau residents rings true of the overall housing situation on the island which is today flooded with projects whose prices are best described as "astronomical". The situation has been one of the key issues to be raised by the new generation of young state legislators.

Yusmadi’s colleague, Sim Tze Tzin, the assemblyman for Pantai Jerejak, called on the authorities and developers to build more affordable and livable homes.

"It is a trend that developers are building homes way beyond the means of the general population," said Sim, a member of the state housing committee. "Young working adults find it difficult to even afford a home."

The concerns are not far-fetched. Many projects that take up precious space in the limited land banks of the island are targeted at foreigners and wealthy Malaysians. In Batu Ferringhi, for example, a vast tract of forest on a hill was cleared some years back for Mediterranean-style villas priced in the millions; and snapped up mainly by foreigners.

The situation has spiralled so much that housing in Penang has generally become the most expensive for any state in the country. Link houses on the island are selling for RM600,000 each and above, while condominiums are sold for a minimum RM400,000 with many costing at least half a million.

"It is, without the slightest doubt, beyond the means of around 70% of Penangites," says Sim who, like Yusmadi, is himself in his 30s. He said developers continue to build three-storey "super-link" houses, semi-detached units and bungalows where "prices are astronomical".

"However, these homes are selling like hot cakes and driving the prices higher and higher."

And so what the state needs, Sim insists, are more homes between the range of RM100,000 and RM300,000, which are affordable and, he emphasises, have good living environment, especially for young people.

What makes the issue even more pressing is that the official Penang Structure Plan has projected that by 2020, the state would require 180,500 new houses to fulfil the needs of the burgeoning population. And to achieve this there needs to be an average of 12,300 houses built yearly.

For Yusmadi, what is happening in Penang epitomises the dark shadow of housing that is bound to engulf the country. Malaysia, he says, requires a new national policy on property rights to safeguard its population against rising prices and "market excesses".

The question that dogs legislators like Yusmadi and Sim is why the authorities who exercise strict control over housing plans do nothing to look into the issue of pricing. It is a question many youngsters as well as middle and lower-income Penangites are left to wonder about as they find themselves surrounded in their own state by homes they can hardly afford.

Himanshu is theSun’s Penang bureau chief. Comments: letters@thesundaily.com

SOURCE: the Sun Daily - Affordable homes remain a dream
Updated: 09:54AM Thu, 02 Sep 2010

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