Securing affordable housing gives you a roof over your head, but it doesn’t always guarantee elements of conducive living such as comfort, accessibility and safety. In Malaysia, People’s Housing Project (PPR) flats are built to enable low-income households to purchase or rent at affordable or below market value prices.
There are 3 million people in Malaysia living in some 4,500 public and private low-cost housing schemes . In most households, there are at least three generations living under the same roof, with the added pressure of financial security.
Alongside housing payments that PPR homeowners and renters battle with, other issues have sprung up. We take a look at some of these issues and the real-life experiences of those experiencing urban poverty.
Broken Lifts And Rubbish Mounts
For the people of Desa Tun Razak People’s Housing Project (PPR) in Bandar Tun Razak, broken lifts have resulted in poor rubbish and waste management. The non-functioning lifts affected the mobility of the elderly, those living on higher floors and those with physical conditions – making it hard for them to get to their unit.
Unfortunately, some residents took advantage of the malfunction and irresponsibly disposed of waste at their own convenience. Piles of trash are found dumped near lift and stair areas, which started to produce foul odours – and it became an open invitation to pests. This happens on a daily basis and poses health threats.
My unit is closest to the lift and there are days the rubbish pile left there will start to attract rodents, ants and flies, which is a health hazard. – Johan Selamat, resident of PPR Desa Tun Razak
Others also create inconveniences for their neighbours, as they would dump their rubbish on other floors.
Every day, something is left on my floor in the lift area, in the corridors or at the foot of the stairs. – Masyati Sulaiman, resident of PPR Desa Tun Razak 
Some PPR flats have it worse. The unmanaged state has turned into one giant rubbish ground.
There are owners who have turned their flats into a big pile of rubbish. – Mohd Feisal Abdul Manaf, PPR Taman Mulia Residents Association (RA) chairman
As a result, the quality of life for these residents continued to deteriorate. Despite having a roof over their heads, some poorly maintained PPR flats make them unsuitable for living, which goes against the primary reason for building affordable homes in the first place.
A Den For Drug Abuse
It was found that underutilised spaces such as open rooftops, staircases and empty parking spaces are go-to spaces for drug users and addicts. Locked and secured areas aren’t a problem for drug users, as they would break open into spaces if desperate. These addicts also found a way to continue using these spaces even throughout the pandemic.
These are high-density areas with populations of between 8,000 and 10,000, where poverty and crime fuel drug addiction breeds. – Mohd Zainuddin Amran, Cheras drug rehabilitation committee chairman
More often than not, vices are picked up from bad influences and company. Drugs are often used as a form of escapism and because of its accessibility and affordability, those from low-income backgrounds succumb to addiction.
I guess these kids succumb to addiction as they see it as a way to escape from their problems. – Noirrimah Mohamad, PA Sri Kota flats chairman
Along with abused spaces, vandalism and lewd graffiti on walls and lifts is also a common eye sore in PPR flats.
Access And Public Transport Still Lacking
Living in low-cost housing shouldn’t cut off access to mutual rights such as healthcare and education, but it somehow has.
Access to basic amenities such as government clinics, playgrounds, or safe areas for outdoor recreational activities, which are essential for mental and physical health, are limited. We could fix these issues through transport connectivity. But it isn’t as easy as we think.
Building affordable housing requires sufficient land. But when there’s land scarcity, PPR flats are often built in underdeveloped areas.
The problem is land scarcity for affordable housing in the core areas of the Klang Valley conurbation or central Greater Kuala Lumpur. Hence, affordable housing has to be built in areas that are not as infrastructurally developed in terms of transport connectivity, particularly when it comes to rail transit. – Jason Loh, Emir Research head of social, law and human rights 
But if we really want to help, different approaches must be cultivated. Connectivity and accessibility are must-haves for PPR flats, and are beneficial to the community in the long run.
This means we should be planning also to meet the needs of a growing population by considering, for example, how to make the wider area to be more self-contained across the spectrum, not just in terms of transport connectivity but also office space and retail space especially the availability of hypermarkets. – Jason Loh, Emir Research head of social, law and human rights 
Rapid Urbanisation Should Not Be A Reason For Poor Maintenance
Malaysia has gone through a rapid urbanisation phase and fortunately, through effective policies, Malaysia has been successful in housing the nation, with access to food, water, power, telecommunication, and broadband. – Hamdan Abdul Majeed, Managing Director of Think City
As Malaysians, we applaud our country for growth in ways unimagined. But as we expand, we cannot turn a blind eye to our community who truly need us. The ones facing the brunt of poverty live with problems arising and are desperate for someone to reach out.
When the city develops, the public housing community voice tends to be reduced, and inequalities in their living environment become evident. Low-income earning families living in these strata flats are often daily wage earners and a higher-than-average proportion are single mothers.
Many of these households live meal by meal, making ends meet where they can. Therefore, there is an urgent need to affect the livelihood of the public housing community, make it more resilient and ensure that the residents are financially independent and receive social protection programmes, especially in times of crisis. – Hamdan Abdul Majeed, Managing Director of Think City
PPR Residents Deserve Better
The cries of PPR residents either don’t receive immediate attention or are dismissed. Many times, residents are blamed for problems that arise. In actuality, these problems originate from external factors, such as an unhealthy ecosystem or an unconducive environment.
We cannot dismiss it as an attitude problem. We have to put ourselves in their shoes because we have no idea what they have been through. – Dr Lim Shiang Cheng, RTI Malaysia’s Better Health Programme lead
Time and effort go hand in hand as we initiate efforts to aid PPR residents. We tend to overlook those working hard behind the scenes to provide for their families. While striving to provide a better life, what they require is sustainable assistance. The investments toward enhancing PPR buildings improves the lives of PPR residents.
We should and must spend more. We can afford it. We are too stingy. We must never consider assistance to the vulnerable group as a cost, but rather as an investment. It is much costlier to not help in the long run, not to mention, [it is] morally wrong too. – Muhammed Abdul Khalid, DM Analytics managing director 
Explore our sources:
- The Edge Markets. (2022). Rights To The City Public Housing Liveability Conference. Link.
- The Star. (2022). Piles of rubbish plague PPR folk in Kuala Lumpur. Link.
- The Star. (2022). Poverty, crime fuel addiction in public housing schemes. Link.
- The Sun Daily . (2021). Facilities such a playground government clinics, are not readily available at PPR. Link.
- Property Hunter. (2022). Rights to the City: Malaysia’s First Public Housing Liveability Conference Unlocks the Potential to Create Sustainable and Liveable Public Housing. Link.
- The Star. (2022). Stopping ‘ghettoisation’ in Klang Valley through proper governance is crucial, say experts. Link.
- The Edge Markets. (2020). UN study affirms need to rethink social protection but PPR folk show resolve to improve their situation. Link.