GOVERNMENT officials say they are in the process of developing a public housing system – the Kingdom’s first since before the Khmer Rouge era – that would see poor families lease houses on state land for periods of up to 50 years.
But housing rights advocates said Wednesday that current plans for the system did not appear to safeguard many poor families from forced eviction.
Several details of the plan were included in a document dubbed the “National Policy for Housing”, which was produced last month and made public at a workshop in Phnom Penh on Wednesday.
“Nowadays, public housing on public land for rent no longer exists,” the draft policy notes before outlining several routes by which poor families could obtain public housing.
The policy states that officials will make state land available for the construction of housing for low-income families, provided that they have not already identified other ways “to use the land for the public benefit”.
It states that low-income housing would be leased for a period of between three and 50 years, and that private companies wishing to develop real estate projects on state land might be obligated to construct on-site low-income housing.
The government could also opt to grant long-term loans to some poor families, thereby enabling them to construct their own housing.
Rath Sarin, a secretary of state at the Ministry of Land Management and the secretary general of the government’s Land Policy Council, said at Wednesday’s workshop that the policy was part of a broader effort to ensure that all people have access to “adequate housing”.
However, the draft policy also states that the government may opt to relocate poor families currently living on state land to public housing constructed elsewhere.
Housing rights advocates said they welcomed the government’s proposal to provide public housing, but that it did not appear to address the main problem facing many poor families: the lack of tenure security.
Am Sam Ath, a senior monitor for the rights group Licadho, said the government should “focus on giving away social land concessions to poor families rather than renting [the homes] to them”.
“When people rent housing from the government, they can only stay for a period of time. They have no land tenure security, which guarantees them land title deeds,” he said.
“If the government wants [the land] after 50 years of leasing, they must give it back to the state, so they will still have no proper homes for their children.”
Chan Vichet, a former resident of the city’s Dey Krahorm community, residents of which were forcibly evicted in January 2009, said the benefits of the policy would be limited.
Instead of devising policies that would allow for the relocation of poor families, he said the government should focus on ensuring that people who are eligible for land titles under the Kingdom’s 2001 Land Law, which states that residents can claim land on which they have lived peacefully for five years, are not forcibly evicted.
“This policy should address the land that people have already lived on for five years and give land titles to them, not to let them live in fear of eviction,” he said.
A report issued by housing rights advocacy group Sahmakum Teang Tnaut in April last year said that around 120,000 people have been evicted from their land in Phnom Penh since 1990 – around one in 10 of the population.