The only class that exists is the human class; the rest is a human creation,” Think City Sdn Bhd Managing Director Hamdan Abdul Majeed said in a recent interview with City & Country when asked about improving the quality of life in Malaysia’s public housing.
“There is a social stigma that children in low-income housing have to grow up a certain way, and that’s a territorial stigma. The more you stigmatize and draw the line, the more divided society will be… Any form of distinction should be based on merit and intellect.
He highlights the need to work with the public housing community to bring out their best abilities in finding solutions to their problems. This will, of course, take time and effort.
Since its inception in 2009, Think City’s mission has been to make cities more livable, ecologically and socially resilient and sustainable. She has since managed urban rejuvenation projects in George Town and Butterworth in Penang, Johor Baru and Kuala Lumpur.
Over the past decade, Think City has undertaken research and intervention in social housing projects across Malaysia. Last year, he launched a program called Rights to the City (R2C) to explore solutions to address issues that matter to social housing communities. This stemmed from ongoing community engagements with residents of Projek Perumahan Rakyat (PPR) who feared their housing estates were turning into slums.
Hamdan says Think City aims to build prosperous and inclusive cities, where everyone – including those staying in social housing – has their own space. Location, accessibility to amenities and density of social housing would also be important.
“For cities to succeed, it is necessary to focus our efforts on building social resilience in these communities. How can we work with them to revalue, improve and enhance the space and the quality of life as well as allow better management of the spaces?
“Cities must be inclusive and for everyone. Otherwise, we are creating a social divide and this will lead to social collapse. It’s difficult but it’s not impossible… We should think of a mixed community as opposed to a community segmented by class and race, which ends up making us a divided nation that does no good for anyone collectively. The dialogue would be about how to make a better Malaysia, which is an inclusive Malaysia. There may be differences in needs, but there shouldn’t be differences in how we live and access amenities, services and a good quality of life.
Hamdan explains that being inclusive is not about making everything equal, rather there should be a “desired minimum standard” that needs to be defined and agreed to by all stakeholders.
He believes it involves more than government and non-governmental organizations to address issues that matter to social housing communities. It should include all Malaysians.
“We all need to understand the challenges and help society. We are all part of a body. Data showed that people living in public housing perform poorly in terms of education and social outcomes.
“There is also a high incidence of drug and youth problems due to limited space causing people to spend more time outside their homes. Many are struggling with multiple jobs and have a substandard life. It will take a collective effort to fix this, but people should see what they can do for this group of people,” Hamdan said.
“A lot of talk is about affordability and accessibility of homes, but they never talk about livability of homes or even building sustainable communities in social housing. It’s the same band with the same mindset… It’s hard for these people to break free and it becomes a cycle. That’s why we advocate a future of buildings with mixed communities. It’s about creating a greater awareness that the more we don’t do this and the more we avoid it, the worse the problem will be in the future.
“Perhaps people see it now from a class and asset value perspective, but in life we are interconnected. We need to be mindful, concerned and compassionate to address this issue more actively. We must realize that the problems will not go away if we leave them alone, and no matter how hard the government tries¸ without the support of the community and businesses, we will not find a solution.
Hamdan adds that there are successful examples in Austria and Belgium, where social policy has worked effectively to produce a good outcome for all members of society.
This lack of synergy between stakeholders, he says, shows that the community itself is not unified. “Getting them to agree and align is a tall order – different groups will have different concerns. Many institutions are working on social housing, and common information is important for stakeholders to come together to make decisions, but this is lacking and we are unable to provide specific solutions.
“Making information more accessible is important and I don’t think it’s impossible. We need to know who needs help, what help is needed, how you can provide help, and how you can best do it.
“We piloted and tried to see how to develop a more common platform where everyone can come together. We have also tried to work on data collection, but all of these efforts are in their infancy and greater collaboration is needed between all stakeholders to ensure that we focus on the people we are working on. .
Hamdan explains that Think City tries to facilitate efforts and give voice through city programs, so that the issue of quality of life in social housing can gain momentum and visibility.
He notes that while Malaysia has succeeded in housing the nation, it has failed to build communities. There are no clear guidelines, but it is important for society to build communities together.