A roof over everyone’s head
Catering to low-income people is becoming a chore for authorities
When Sirinee Urunanont heard the MRT Blue-Line train would penetrate into Chinatown in 2005, she knew a number of old-time residents of the property she lived in, including her family, would have to make some sacrifices.
The truth of the situation emerged in 2008 when Ms Sarinee and other tenants, third generation occupiers of properties owned by the Paribatra Foundation, learned that their three-year leases were to be scrapped.
“We have never had a say on the land we occupy but don’t own,” Ms Sarinee said. “And we knew we could not afford the land around the developed area once the subway station was completed.”
It’s a common theme in the city that once an infrastructure development is decided upon, the first group forced to leave the area is the tenants.
To make the capital affordable for all, a recent seminar by the Engineering Institute of Thailand (EIT) in Bangkok toyed with the idea of re-developing properties along the rail routes.
Redevelopment, said Prof Suchatvee Suwansawat, the EIT president, would re-organise properties along the rail systems to benefit people from all walks of life.
Currently, he said, only those with a higher-than-average income can afford to stay in such upmarket buildings along the rail tracks.
“Low-income citizens are not benefitting from the system at all,” he said.
The majority of workers in the city centre live in outer suburban areas and rely on public transport, Prof Suchatvee said.
He pointed out that the limited choice of transport was the cause of traffic congestion. The only solution to ease the congestion is for the government to provide low-budget residences, at least along some parts of the city rail networks of Bangkok including the BTS, MRT, and Airport Rail Link.
He said it was clearly evident that the majority — if not all — of those who occupy properties offer only well-presented residences, offices and other buildings that are on lease from business-driven landlords. Without a reasonable and fair property tax system, these business people can prosper by dictating to the market.
In contrast, the Klong Toey slum is an illegal residential area. But since it is overrun by poor and working class people and has acquired a certain reputation, it would be impossible to re-invent this community. In the near future, similar slum areas will grow, as seems typical of a modern city.
The slum residents do not live in the right location nor have the opportunity to utilise the rail systems. Their only commuting options are open-air buses or motorcycle taxis. Hence, they are excluded from the benefits of the city’s better transport.
Veteran architect Chantharid Virochsiri pointed out that proper development is an investment that every civilian should be able to benefit from.
“Benefits should be made available to every citizen, rich or poor,” said Mr Chantharid, adding King Rama V might have had a similar vision when the State Railway of Thailand claimed a swathe of land for the train system, along with expanded pockets around the stations.
Unfortunately, the subsequent development of Thailand’s railways became more capitalistic oriented with such bad management that the transport system is worse off than when it started, he said.
If the situation continues to be ignored, it will only exacerbate the gap between rich and poor. This connects to a second issue noted by the EIT, the long awaited improvement of trains across the country.
In response to the idea of subsidised accommodation, Bangkok deputy governor Amorn Kitchawengkul says he is aware that transit oriented development — or TOD — has become big in other major cities including Tokyo, Seoul and New York.
“Bangkok is no exception,” he said. He cited the Corncob Residential Project by late former governor Samak Sundaravej which is aimed at providing residential housing at a reasonable price for low-income individuals.
The project was originally planned in three areas: Taling Chan, Pradipat and Hua Mark on Ramkhamhaeng Road. The Taling Chan and Pradipat communities have been managed by the Housing Development Office under the supervision of the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA), while the last is managed by Krungthep Thanakom Co.
Hua Mark became a success, but the others were shot down over legal issues and bank loans were not approved.
The three 22-storey buildings, featuring 360 units all together, were to be sold at 16,000 to 17,000 baht per square metre.
Mr Amorn said the BMA made a gain of 10-15% while developers in general made a profit of 25-30%.
He said the project received a positive response from low-income families as reflected in the one project being sold-out in a very short period of time.
“So we were able to repay the loan borrowed from a commercial bank quickly,” he said.
It was a good idea to develop TOD projects, the deputy governor said. To be successful, he said, it requires collaboration between the government sector and public transport operators who need to negotiate an agreement for a strategic location where a residential project and public transit points can meet, at the lowest possible price. As a result, the BMA is able to sell units in a residential project at a reasonable price to low income families.
Mr Amorn noted investment restrictions and too many bidders for a project have reduced the projects’ chances of success.
One obstacle in a state-run organisation like the BMA bidding for a residential project, he said, was lack of competitiveness in which it can only offer a lower rate for the bidding than other residential developers. The state run organisation is not allowed to set a purchase price that is higher than the Department of Lands’ appraised prices.
According to Mr Amorn, in the development of TOD projects in many countries like Japan, Sweden and France, the government usually seeks help from the private sector who make a financial investment in the project while the government must have a policy to develop a public transport transit project close to the residential project.
In Thailand, such subsidised residential projects need approval from the House of Representatives, according to the City Development Act, BE 2540 which allows public enterprises to develop an affiliated company that is responsible for buying a plot of land for a project and for operating the infrastructure management so that units can be sold at the lowest possible price.