Program Perumahan Rakyat (PPR) or People’s Housing Project is one of the four programmes listed in Sarawak Housing Development Corporation’s website, and the objective is to provide transit housing and achieve zero squatters.

Completed PPR projects are located at Demak Laut, Sri Wangi and Taman Dahlia in Kuching, Bintulu, Batu Gong and Sibu. The size of these three-bedroom flats is 700sq ft and the monthly rental is RM150.

They are meant for Sarawakians only, married with families with household income ranging from RM650 to RM3,000. They must not own any house or land nearby and priority given to squatters.

Nationwide, PPR flats are also found in Perlis, Kedah, Penang, Perak, Selangor, Kuala Lumpur, Negeri Sembilan, Johor, Pahang and Sabah but not in Kelantan, Terengganu and Melaka.

More than half are concentrated in Kuala Lumpur and the size of three-bedroom PPR flats that were built earlier, such as those at Jalan Hang Tuah, is 572sq ft. Newer ones are 650sq ft and can be found next to Jalan Perkasa. Their rentals are standardised at RM124 monthly.

Recently, 22 families were evicted from the Taman Manggis PPR in Penang after they lost their eligibility to continue staying in their units, with Chief Minister Chow Kon Yeow saying they serve as transit house and not meant for permanent occupation.

The incident had opened a can of worms. Over the past decades, allocation of many PPR units lacked transparency giving room to speculation of corruption. Many PPR are poorly maintained and management apathetic, such as issuing water bills after many months or over a year and expect tenants to cough out the accumulated sum.

According to the Auditor-General’s annual report for 2016, 666 applicants for PPR in Penang had not received any housing unit although they had registered for more than 15 years. But 436 units of PPR were vacant while a total of 3,747 applicants were still waiting for PPR units.

Apart from empty units, many are occupied by tenants not qualified or no longer meeting the criteria. It is understandable a few units may need to be reserved to house fire victims but leaving a large number of vacant units will end up with many people trying to pull strings when it should have been awarded in a more transparent manner.

It is obvious that many tenants staying in PPR have current income way above the eligibility bracket, judging by the non-national cars they drive, with some brand new. Apart from the television satellite dishes, many have installed air-conditioners.

In some PPR, cars are double parked even when it was past 9 am on weekdays, giving the impression that many staying in these flats do not have to work. If it is possible to determine the actual household income, more than half of the units would have surpassed the maximum set.

But is it fair to evict those who have diligently paid their monthly rentals on time when no action was taken against those who owe rentals for many months or several years, including water bills?

If action is to be taken, it should start with units rented out to others, including foreigners or those that are hardly used with tenants keeping it by continuing to pay the cheap rental. A similar size unit could fetch five to 10 times more in the market, depending on its location.

The land occupied by three blocks of 15-storey PPR flats at Jalan Perkasa is worth a fortune. In exchange for the land, any developer would be happy to rebuild them at the outskirt and offer the apartments free of charge to the tenants.

This prime land is near an MRT station, IKEA Cheras, MyTown Shopping Centre and Sunway Velocity Mall. It is just over a kilometre away from The Exchange 106, the tallest building standing in the country. Few luxury condominiums have a better location than this.

But PPR is not a conducive place to bring up children, including those at PPR Cochrane, although safety and security here is much better than many others in the city. For example, when oBike, a bicycle sharing platform that was introduced in 2017, almost all the children there were riding a stolen oBike after removing the heavy-duty bicycle lock.

Before and after this, preteens and children often ride around the apartment blocks on motorcycles, usually with a pillion rider, and both not wearing crash helmet. For tenants who have moved up the income ladder, it would be unwise to continue staying at PPR flats, more so there is a long waiting list.

But because of cheap rental, many are willing to put up with broken lifts, dirty staircase, smelly cat poop along corridors and lack of parking space. Women drivers pushing away cars or vans double parked and blocking their vehicles are a common sight.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the New Sarawak Tribune.