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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Cambodia sees debut affordable housing initiative also benefiting gov’t

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At the groundbreaking ceremony on Saturday, MLMUPC minister Chea Sophara sprinkles flowers, gold and diamonds on cement as part of a traditional blessing ritual. Sreng Meng Srun

Cambodia sees debut affordable housing initiative also benefiting gov’t

It is high time that a low-cost housing project for the masses emerges from the high-profile wave of commercially oriented residential projects in Cambodia.

In large part, thanks to local investor WorldBridge Land, together with belated support from the government, the Kingdom’s first affordable housing initiative was announced last weekend following many failed talks with the Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction (MLMUPC).

Speaking at the groundbreaking ceremony last Saturday, Sear Rithy, chairman of WorldBridge Land, said: “The company is asking for support from the government, for them to relieve the company of tax burdens such as output tax, or stamp duty; for example, equipments, machinery, utensils that can be offered to the housing project or taxation on the additional price.”

The ceremony, which was presided over by MLMUPC minister Chea Sophara, saw Rithy addressing the need for further cooperation from the government in establishing proper infrastructure. These include a competent water system, electricity, sewage system, telecommunication system, and the construction of a road leading to other developed areas.

According to Rithy, the housing project’s main focus is on government officials married with kids, who, due to their low monthly salaries and low retirement payouts, are unable to purchase a home within market value. Following this prioritisation are normal families, whose monthly income is less than $500.

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Sear Rithy speaking at the groundbreaking ceremony last weekend. Sreng Meng Srun

“This project puts government officials first; however, we also have some places left for people within the middle and low income bracket. It doesn’t mean that we’re only selling the houses to government officials,” Rithy explained.

He continued, “When we say ‘citizens’, it means that anyone who has a monthly income less than $500 is welcome to purchase the property.” Other conditions related to the eligibility of purchasing the project are that the buyer has to be married with kids. In the event the buyer is a private company employee, a certified letter stating their salary would be required.

At the groundbreaking event on Saturday, Chea Sophara told a 500-strong audience he had been waiting for this day for a long time.

“Coupled with the charitable sentiments of Sear Rithy who thinks not only of his own interests, but has endeavoured to think of the interests of the whole nation, we are finally able to commence this construction site for the affordable housing project corresponding to the housing policy of the government of Cambodia.”

He continued, “We make it so that these tenants will never have to pay over $80 per month; and they would have to pay 20 years for one house.”

The minister went on to inform the crowd that all application and documentation processes will be conducted at the ministry or other authorities such as the electricity authorities, or local authorities of the Ministry of Mines and Energy.

In addition, Sophara has, in advance, forbidden the selling of the houses in the project by any individuals or merchants out to reap profits. He stressed, “These houses are reserved for armed forces, and retired officers without any real residence, or people with low income.”

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Roadworks are begining to make way for an entrance to the housing project. Sreng Meng Srun

“In a case where the buyer has successfully purchased a home, he is not permitted to sell or rent the property. He can only do so after five years,” Rithy added, saying that the company is currently in discussions with several private banks for low-interest home loans.

One of the attendees of the ceremony, Chim Sou Von, a retired 55 year-old teacher currently living in Phum Toul Songkae in Russey Keo, trekked across one side of the city to the other just to participate in the opening ceremony in the hopes of purchasing a residence there with her children.

The project will see phase one completed on 24 hectares of land out of the grand total of 45 hectares set aside at its location in Phum Toul Krosang in Kandal province, eight kilometres south of Takhmao. Of the 2,297 two-storey houses that will be built, 2,025 will be four metres by seven metres, and the remaining 271 houses will measure six by seven metres. Houses are priced between $25,000 to $30,000.

Public housing has been a long-held vision of Rithy’s who previously dubbed the housing development his legacy.

World Bridge, together with a Singapore-based construction company, signed a memorandum of understanding on the development with the government back in 2015, but Rithy previously told Post Property that the housing project had been first conceptualised six years ago.

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Minister Chea Sophara (l) and WorldBridge chairman Sear Rithy (c) inspect billboards showcasing the new housing project. Sreng Meng Srun

Towards the end of last year, Rithy gave an ultimatum to the government in a last ditch attempt to get the MLMUPC to formally back the project in the form of providing the land as well as water and electricity supply.

“If this December, the government still does not confirm, I will go ahead myself. We cannot wait anymore,” Rithy told Post Property in September.

“I can assure you that by the first quarter of 2017, we will go ahead. But from what I’ve been told, the government will support it.”

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