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Families begin to leave White Building

Residents prepare to move out of  Phnom Penh's White Building yesterday.
Residents prepare to move out of Phnom Penh's White Building yesterday. Pha Lina

Families begin to leave White Building

Families from the capital’s iconic White Building started to move out of their apartments yesterday in exchange for compensation packages, marking the start of a process that will see the dilapidated structure torn down and replaced with a new 21-storey building.

The monthlong process will see more than 400 families leaving their homes. Hue Chenda, deputy director at the Land Management Ministry’s Housing Department, said 75 families had already vacated the premises.

“Almost all our housing department officials have been sent to coordinate with the residents,” he said. “Only when they move out do we give them the money.”

Japanese firm Arakawa Co is slated to replace the housing complex with a 21-storey building. Twelve of the floors will be put on the open market, while five floors have been retained for families that want to return, though so far no residents have picked that option.

A boy prepares to move out of his apartment in Phnom Penh’s White Building yesterday.
A boy prepares to move out of his apartment in Phnom Penh’s White Building yesterday. Pha Lina

According to Chenda, fewer than 20 families are holding out on signing the compensation package, which gives $1,400 per square metre for their homes.

“They are still indecisive for signing the contract and they want to hold out for long so that they could get a higher [price]. We will remain calm and facilitate the work peacefully,” he said.

He added that the holdouts will be given 15 days to reconsider their decision, after which point they will use the “law” to force them to leave the state-owned property.

While vendors yesterday on the building’s lower level continued to sell their wares, families were busy packing their belongings and loading them onto trucks.

Ministry officials swarmed the building trying to verify residents leaving the building, while second-hand dealers bought up possessions families did not want to take with them.

A woman carries luggage out of her apartment at the White Building in Phnom Penh yesterday as residents began to vacate the premises to make way for a development project.
A woman carries luggage out of her apartment at the White Building in Phnom Penh yesterday as residents began to vacate the premises to make way for a development project. Pha Lina

As he was loading a cupboard onto a truck with his sons, Soum Neang said he was happy to leave the crowded building and had already made arrangements to live at Chbar Ampov’s Prek Thmey commune.

“I am able to get my money at one o’clock,” he said, referring to his compensation. “I just informed the official that we are done packing. So they let me sign the document and gave me $100 for transportation.”

Another resident, Kong Sarueng, could not hold back her tears. As she was arranging her belongings, including karaoke tapes, she said it was hard for her to leave the building, partly because she had yet to find another home and will live with her daughter in the interim.

“It is very hard for us with that money to find a house to live in,” she said. “I wanted them to give us more, around $2,000 to $3,000 [per metre].”

White Building residents sign contracts accepting compensation offered by the Land Ministry yesterday in Phnom Penh. Facebook
White Building residents sign contracts accepting compensation offered by the Land Ministry yesterday in Phnom Penh. Facebook

As villagers packed up their belongings, they signed off with local officials and were sent to the Land Management Ministry to collect their checks. Minister Chea Sophara was present at the handing over ceremony, but did not address the residents.

He did, however, post on Facebook later asking local authorities to facilitate the inflow of new people and help the incoming residents with water and electricity connections.

After receiving her check, Sim Vorlin, 57, said she was happy to get around $60,000 for her home, which is enough for her to retire on, and a larger sum than would have been possible with her $100 monthly salary. Vorlin has lived in the building since 1979.

“So now I think I will become a millionaire,” she joked. “I don’t feel any regrets because the house was very decayed.”

 

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