MORE than one-third of families evicted last year from the Stung Meanchey dumpsite to a Habitat for Humanity community in Kandal province have since rented second homes in the capital, the chief of the community said yesterday.
Chea Chandy said eight of the 21 families had arranged for places to stay in Phnom Penh because they had jobs there and had been unable to find work in their new environs.
“It is difficult for me to tell them not to go back to work in Phnom Penh,” he said. “They go to work in Phnom Penh because they are having a hard time making a living here in the village.”
The houses of Damnak Thom village, located in Oudong district, were built by Habitat’s Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter Work Project, and the former United States president and first lady attended an inauguration ceremony last year. They feature solar panels and access to a 10,000-litre water tank.
The only thing missing, residents said yesterday, was jobs.
“At first we hoped we would have jobs here because of the Oudong Mountain tourist site nearby,” 25-year-old Huor Samnat said. “But when we arrived here there were no jobs. It’s better living conditions here than in Stung Meanchey, but the dumpsite is better for making money.”
Many residents formerly worked as rubbish scavengers at the dumpsite in Meanchey district, which was closed down last year.
Huor Samnat said she knew of nine families that were no longer living at Damnak Thom during the week, and said they all had access to reliable motorbikes for the one-hour journey into the city.
As for Huor Samnat, who lives with her husband and two children, the only income she can earn comes from the fruit stand she operates in the community – though, with families increasingly looking for work in the capital, her customer base is shrinking. Her husband worked with Chea Chandy on another 52-home Habitat community being constructed nearby, she said.
Families that received homes in Damnak Thom need to pay US$15 per month until the $900 price tag is paid off in full, a requirement that some residents said yesterday they were having difficulty meeting.
“It’s so difficult to come up with $15 a month,” Huor Samnat said. “I’m already behind on my payments by two months, and I’m worried that the NGO will take my home away.”
But Melissa Cronin, a communications manager for Habitat, said yesterday that “no family is in danger of leaving the community”.
“If they’re not able to make the payments, we work with the families,” Cronin said. “We try to find solutions, and we offer them a new plan and repackage the loan payments to something they can afford.”
Melissa Cronin added that 10 villagers are currently working on the construction of the 52-home community, which was also located in Oudong district.
She also said that Habitat hopes families moving into homes built by the organisation can find work in their new communities.
“Our ultimate goal was to have the families living in the house full-time, and for their future families and children to do so as well,” she said. “But if somebody has a great job in Phnom Penh and that’s where they get their livelihood, we understand that. We see it as a transition over time.”
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY SAM RITH