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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Sear Rithy determined to end Cambodian housing dilemma

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Oknha Sear Rithy is banking on government support for his public housing plans, but admits he may have to do it alone. Heng Chivoan

Sear Rithy determined to end Cambodian housing dilemma

Worldbridge Group chairman Sear Rithy is attempting to spearhead a $100 million public housing project which, if and when comes to fruition, will be the first affordable housing scheme in Cambodia.

Despite the company, together with a Singapore-based construction company, signing a memorandum of understanding on the development with the government last year, little progress has been made.

Oknha Rithy told Post Property that he needs the government to endorse the proposal so he can fulfil his public housing legacy.

What is the status of the affordable housing project?ុ
On the company side, we are almost done. That’s including a marketing and master plan. But there is some information that needs to be endorsed by the government.

I’m building this public housing for the low and middle class so I need to have support from the government. By right, the government has to give me the land but the government doesn’t have land so I, from the private sector, invest everything myself.

But I cannot bring the water and electricity supplies myself, because this is the government’s part. I need the government to support me on those parts.

Unfortunately, the former minister of land management has changed so I need to re-discuss with the new minister. We need the new minister’s blessings.

Can you do the project without government support?ុ
I can, but if I do it it’s no more low cost because I will have to bring in electricity, water and infrastructure [myself]. I will have to put those costs on the project.

Are you confident of receiving government support for your public housing proposal?ុ
Eventually, the government will support [the project]. The government will never put the money in but the government can open accessibility. We need water, so we have to ask the government to do it for us.

How many years has this project been in the works?ុ
I have studied this project for six years already. It’s taken up a lot of my time, [including] flying overseas to Bangkok to see how they do public housing and going to Malaysia and Singapore. However, I can’t bring in the public housing concept from Singapore to here. It won’t work. Public housing in Singapore costs about $1 million. In Thailand, public housing is supported by the government. In Vietnam and Indonesia it’s 50/50 [from the government and private sectors]. For Cambodia, I have to sacrifice everything 100 percent.

Why are you so passionate about providing affordable housing for the public?ុ
As a conglomerate company, you have to think about corporate social responsibility (CSR). Public housing is my passion. I always say, to live on earth there are two things people need. One is food to eat, second is accommodation. If there is no food to eat, people fight until they die. After having something to eat, people want a home. In Cambodia, a lot of new families are coming up. There is demand for low cost [housing], and not all those boreys. For me, I want to do this as part of my CSR. You may think that we will make money, but no. Because I’ve built a very high-end project, now I want to build a low-end project. I am making money from the high end, which will support the low end.

How long could this project take to complete?ុ
To build it will take two years maximum. We will do it nationwide; not just one project. I will begin in Phnom Penh first and I will build in some district along the outskirts of Phnom Penh. From there, I will move to provinces like Kampong Cham, Battambang, Siem Reap and Sihanoukville. The $100 million is only for the city for three projects. We have to give the people accessibility. That’s why in the project itself I will have a public transport option for this public housing I call a community, not a borey. We will provide a shuttle bus from the community linked to the government transport. It will be included in the management fee. The shuttle bus will be for every community.

I want to do a pilot test with the first project to determine it is a workable concept with the locals. For the first project we have about 2,700 homes. There will be one- and two-storey houses with an average of four members per house. In the community we will have cleaners, a kindergarten and a community mall.

When could it become a reality?ុ
I really want it to be fast. In my agenda, I want it to happen by this November. If the government doesn’t give me their blessing, how can I move forward? If this year ends, and the government is still slow, I might move forward myself. I will try and find a way to maintain my costs and to make it affordable to everyone. I’m still sure the government will support it.

What are the costs for a unit in the community?ុ
$25,000 to $35,000. [Buyers] have to put down only five to ten percent deposit. Ten percent is only about $2500, that’s still okay. The instalments also need to be low so we have to come up with a financial structure with some kind of banking or NGO company. The Asian Development Bank and the World Bank are interested in these projects, so we are working on how to come up with a good solution to support the poor people. I’m targeting the people who get a salary of between $150 and $400 a month. If someone earns $250 and they pay $100 [a month] that should be fine, and they will pay for roughly around 20 years.

What are the limitations around your strategy for public housing?
I will not allow people to sub-sell. When they buy it they have to meet my criteria. They cannot sell until they have lived there for at least five years. With the criteria, I have to look into their income. If they have a $1,000 [a month] income I won’t sell to them, and they have to be a married family. People cannot buy for [property value] speculation.

How many more months will you wait to receive the government’s backing?ុ
By the end of this year. If the government won’t support it, then I will have to find my own way. It’s my reputation, so I have to make it happen. This is my legacy.



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