Low-cost apartments ‘no solution to slums’
City News – March 14, 2007

Adisti Sukma Sawitri, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

More suburbs of the city are in the process of becoming overpopulated slums but urban experts doubt that building low-cost apartments is any solution.

Urban expert Darrundono said apartment living was a foreign concept to people who were accustomed to the shanties that line railway tracks and rivers in the city and forcing squatters into high-rise buildings would only deepen current social problems.

“Living in an apartment won’t change things for them. What they need is jobs. They will be facing an unfamiliar environment, which may make them feel uncomfortable,” he said Tuesday during a lecture on the urban environment at Tarumanegara University in West Jakarta.

According to a study he recently carried out at Bunda Tzu-Chi low-cost high-rise estate in Cengkareng, West Jakarta, 40 percent of its 800 residents had not paid their rent for three months.

They pay Rp 90,000 (US$9.86) a month for a 36-square-meter furnished room.

A resident said that living in the estate had reduced his income as he had previously rented out some of the rooms of his old house on a North Jakarta riverbank.

“This only drives them back to the slum areas. The administration should be ready to financially assist residents as they adapt to their new environments, if it wants its plan to work,” Darrundono said.

Many apartments in other high-rise estates in Cilincing, Marunda and Rorotan — all in North Jakarta — are being deserted as people return to their old homes on riverbanks, despite the likelihood they will be evicted again.

The central government and the Jakarta administration proposed accommodating slum dwellers in high-rise estates following the devastating floods in Jakarta early last month in which 98 people died.

They blamed people living along riverbanks for the floods, saying they improperly disposed of their garbage and the structures they built obstructed the flow of the rivers.

The administration plans to build 28,000 apartments in the next 10 years, 40 percent of which will be set aside for middle- to low-income earners.

It also aims to relocate 71,000 people from riverbanks by the end of the year.

Another urban expert, Djauhari Sumintardja, said the administration needed to “strike a bargain” with slum dwellers if it wanted them to accept the program.

“Living in a house is for them about being with family. People can’t just take that away. It’s like taking people away from their roots.”

Darrundono said the best way to make slum areas more orderly was to build an extra story on the existing homes, which would give residents more space.

He said a well-managed neighborhood could accommodate up to 1,300 people per hectare, which would come close to the capacity of an apartment building, which might accommodate 1,500 people per hectare.

“I’ve seen a lot of well-managed shanty towns in the city. We should start to accept their existence for people’s own good,” Darrundono said.