TWO years ago, 129 squatter families near the Chinese
Embassy were told by the Cham-carmon district chief that
they had to move to make way for urban development. Men
Chamnan, head of the Toul Svay Prey Poor Association
conceded to the chief that his members "did not want
to live there," but that they really had no choice.
What they did have was their own organization and their
own bank account.
"We told the district chief that we needed only land
and we could build the houses by ourselves," Men
The 129 families are scheduled to move to Boeng Kraper,
two kilometers southwest of Phnom Penh, along Veng Sreng
Blvd. Here they will reform as the Meanchay Development
Center for the Poor Association. The new housing project
is organized by the Phnom Penh Municipality and a group
of NGOs: United Nations Centre for Habitat and Settlement
(UNCHS), Asian Coalition for Housing Rights (ACHR),
Solidarity for Urban Poor Federation (SUPF), Urban Poor
Development Fund (UPDF), the Urban Resource Center (URC)
and the SAWA engineering consultants.
Men Chamnan observes that his squatter community is
mostly Khmer Krom, plus 30 Khmer and 5 Vietnamese
They work as construction laborers, cake and vegetable
sellers, motorcycle taxi drivers. Together they have
deposited 10 million riels in a community bank account,
each family contributing between 100 to 1,000 riels
"I have to go every evening to collect money from
the squatter homes in my community," says Men
Chamnan. "I want to show the world and the
government that poor people are not helpless to earn
money to move to another place. We showed them the money
we are earning, so they stopped trying to chase us out
and turned to helping my people and encouraging them to
He added that the government previously ignored poor
people but once they recognized the will of the people,
they are now helping to find land for the poor.
The municipality bought the land in Boeung Kraper in
November 1997. The UNCHS provided infrastructure costs
with technical assistance from SAWA for landfill, toilets
and wells. The Urban Resource Center (URS) and Cambodian
Appropriate Technology Development Group (CATDG) provided
housing designs. Each NGO has already constructed two
model homes apiece.
Men Chamnan said legal licenses for the new houses in
Boeng Kraper will be provided by the municipality, while
the Phnom Penh Education Department will help in the
transfer of students to new schools nearby.
At a cost of US$723-749, the new houses can be bought
from savings or through flexible loans arranged by the
Urban Poor Development Fund (UPDF).
Meas Somaly, manager of the UPDF, states that his
organization is providing housing loans to the new
settlers, repayable in five years at 0.66% interest.
Repayment is made at a rate of between 500-2000 riels per
day, depending on the size of the loan.
"I think that people will be able to repay this
amount," he added. Lim Kim Heng, 38, a fish seller
in the Olympic Market is pleased at the prospect of
living in a new home in Boeng Kraper.
She will be able to pay back her housing loan because she
earns between 5,000-15,000 riels per day.
"I will be very happy to have a house here because
the air is fresh and clean," she observes. "At
my old place we lived under a sewage smell."
"We tried to involve the community as such as
posible," observes Hall Goad of the Urban Resource
Center. "They chose the site... and they chose the
housing layout from several different ideas. The site is
good because it is very close to the city residents can
bicycle there and many people already have jobs at
several factories nearby."
Asked why this particular community was being helped,
Goad said that it was because they were very cohesive and
willing to participate in the project.
"You're helping a small number of people in big
way," he commented. "Some communities are
better organized than others. . . You have to pick
particular projects and only those communities who are
Compared to the Mong Reth-thy palm oil scheme [see
accompanying story], Goad believes that the Boeung Kraper
project may be more successful in the long term because
of extensive community involvement.
"We're giving a chance for them to develop it
themselves," he observes. "We just give them
some money and some help. They feel [the project] is
theirs, that they built it themselves. It's a better way
to make progress."
Men Chamnan agrees. He notes that here people in Boeung
Kraper can sell their houses, even if they have not yet
repaid their loans and that they are free to choose their
own occupations, rather than being restricted to oil palm
cultivation as in Mong Reththy.
"I hope that the people who move here to live will
not sell their houses," he says. "They need
real houses and now they have them, so why sell?"