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NGOs fill affordable housing gap

Children play in the housing community built by the Cambodian Children’s Fund. SRENG MENG SRUN
Children play in the housing community built by the Cambodian Children’s Fund. Vandy Muong

NGOs fill affordable housing gap

The government and investment companies are joining forces to build affordable housing for middle-income citizens and social housing for the country’s poorest residents.

In 2014, Cambodia adopted the National Housing Policy to promote housing development initiatives and the government is now drafting policy proposals for affordable housing. They hope to have the law in place by the end of the year, although some observers have raised concerns about what will actually be in the law.

Scott Neeson, founder and executive director of the Cambodian Children’s Fund, told Post Property that CCF started their own housing programme to meet the needs of those who could not afford any form of housing. These are mainly people from Stung Meanchey who were squatting on land and had made ramshackle homes out of tarpaulins, plastics and other materials.

CCF, he said, was fortunate enough to form an association with World Housing, a Vancouver-based organisation, that helped provide funds to build homes as well as water systems, drainage systems, shared bathrooms, landscaping, power lines, fencing and much more.

“Our goal was to provide benefits to those families who would work with us in order to get their kid into school every day. The basic criteria for receiving a home is to get your child to school on a regular basis and have a home life free of abuse, whether it’s emotional, physical, sexual. If a family can achieve this then they are first in line for one of the homes,” he said.

A family sits in front of their home in CCF’s housing development. Vandy Muong
A family sits in front of their home in CCF’s housing development. Vandy Muong

Homeowners pay a stipend of $15 per month to contribute toward land rental costs, utilities and maintenance.

“We have built 461 homes across 19 different communities. Roughly 100 of them are in the provinces, identified by other organisations or local officials and the rest are in the Stung Meanchey area, especially Phum Russey,” he added.

Designed and built by Allan Crellin in a factory in Stung Meanchey, the homes come with their own gardens and shared toilets.

“It’s a place where families can live with a sense of dignity and receive the benefits of getting the child in school and having a safer home life,” Neeson said.

The World Housing programme in Cambodia opened a 34-home community in Phum Russey village before closing this year.

“It’s the flagship community where we have some of the families who have taken the opportunity to get their kids into education and are working hard to climb out of poverty.

The programme came to a halt mainly because we don’t need any more homes in our geographic area,” he said.

“We have 360 roughly in the Stung Meanchey area and that’s meeting the needs of the families. We don’t want the families to be there forever, it’s a stepping stone to financial independence.”

As more people move to urban areas from rural regions of the country, the need for affordable housing will continue to grow. Neeson said his homes are at the lower end of the spectrum when it comes to design, but the initiative is meant to provide low-cost housing to those on lower salaries.

CCF’s affordable housing community in Stung Meanchey district.
CCF’s affordable housing community in Stung Meanchey district. Vandy Muong

“A good example is what Rithy Sear is planning, I believe in Takhmao, with homes that are safe, inexpensive and come with finance options,” he said, adding that “If that can be achieved for those who are in the middle lower level income brackets then that’s their stepping stone into Phnom Penh society.”

One of the bigger goals of the housing effort is to create built-in communities that foster deeper connections between residents and neighbours.

“We want that sense of proprietary, and we want the people there to feel an ownership, not just of the home, but also of the community, looking after each other’s kids, security and within the community, their own self-governance. We don’t want to impose our values, it’s up to the communities to decide what their tolerance levels are for drinking and gambling,” he said.

Kim Soyeurn, a 65-year-old resident who lives with her daughter and grandchildren, told Post Property that she felt welcome in her home and was glad that her family did not have to worry about their living situation.

“This social housing is great for us because we are poor and it is hard to find house in Phnom Penh,” she said.

Vanh Sreyneang, 40, supports a large family working as a scavenger, and living in the housing projects has made life a lot easier compared to the place she used to rent.

“I have lived in Scott’s housing project for more than two years, and it is a good home that costs very little. It is not just the house, but he also offers my children a chance to study,” she said. “I hope more social housing projects fulfil the needs [of Cambodia].”

“We have worked with both the private sector and a few NGOs in regards design for affordable housing and social housing pilots. These projects aim to provide housing at an affordable rate to those earning $160 per month,” he said.“If we assume there are two earners to each household and a 37.5 percent ($120) spend rate each month on housing costs, this equates to a $20,000 home on a 20-year mortgage at a 5 percent interest rate with a 10 percent deposit.”

He compared the homes to those you could find in the private sector and compared costs. With $20,000 and factoring in land prices, infrastructure, utility connections, margins for contractors and much more, a person would only be able to afford a 36-square-metre home depending on the design and area, he said.

A CCF homeowner.
A CCF homeowner. Vandy Muong

“We have worked on low-cost housing in a number of locations globally. We believe that it is a basic human right for people to have access to safe, secure housing and that economies can only truly develop in a society that provides housing options for all,” he added.

He told Post Property that Phnom Penh needs a higher density of housing solutions. The private sector, he said, was filling some of the gap but more needed to be done from all stakeholders to improve the situation.

“As the city grows, it will become more polycentric, with hubs establishing as is already happening in Tuol Kork. These suburbs may call for more medium-rise developments which bring in elements of open public space and a mixture of uses. Alternatively, we could look at small scale homes in a tighter street network to achieve high enough densities that support sustainable infrastructure solutions,” he said.

“There are already affordable housing options to those coming to Phnom Penh. The issue is that they are often informal solutions with no security and/or involve people living in multi-occupancy, single room scenarios. We hope the private sector will realise the gap in the market and there are safe guards in place at this time from the Ministry of Land Planning and Urban Development to ensure that the solutions are both safe and offer good long term investments to low income families.”

Many of his projects are aimed at garment factory or construction workers, but anyone can realistically live in the homes if they would like.

“We would like to see new developments. A mixture of individuals, families, low earners and middle-class residents creating a mixture and therefore a diverse vibrant community that reflects the makeup of Phnom Penh,” he said.

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