Mini apartments go against development trend, experts say

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Visitors
learn about new residential projects at a real estate exhibition in Ho Chi Minh City. Experts say small-sized apartments will have negative impacts on sustainable urban development plans.

The Ministry of Construction plans once again to push for the development of small apartments, but critics say the idea will yield no long-term benefits and goes against the goal of improving housing quality in Vietnam.

Nguyen Trong Ninh, deputy head of the Housing and Real Estate Market Management Department at the ministry, said the proposal will be submitted to the government by the end of June.

He told news website VnExpress last week that real estate developers need to build more small-sized apartments because the liquidity of large apartments is low. Property firms may be required to have at least 15 percent of their housing units between 25 and 40 square meters in size, he said.

"While the luxury housing market is facing a surplus, there are not enough small and affordable apartments for most of the population," Ninh said, allaying concerns that small houses will lead to the emergence of slums.

This is not the first time the Ministry of Construction voices its support for small apartments. In May 2010, it approved a proposal by Dat Lanh Real Estate Company to build 20 sq.m. apartments in Ho Chi Minh City. It then asked the city administration to provide guidelines for the development of these apartments on a trial basis.

The city government, however, rejected the proposal, saying it would violate Vietnam's Housing Law, which stipulates that an apartment must have a minimum area of 45 sq.m.

Some critics say that while small apartments could ease the housing shortage problem and help boost the troubled property market, they will have negative impacts on sustainable urban development plans.

Luu Trong Hai of the HCMC Association of Architects said the minimum requirement of 45 sq.m. for apartments is in place because it is necessary to ensure a large enough living area for each resident.

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There is a demand for very small apartments, but from architectural and urban planning perspectives, building them is not a viable policy, Hai said.

HCMC, for instance, is aiming to develop residential projects that can last 70 years or more, while small apartments are only suitable for short-term purposes, he said.

The city targets an average housing area of 26.9 sq.m. per person in 2015 and 28.3 sq.m. in 2020. Hai said even without such targets, it would be already a step backwards to build apartments of 25 sq.m. even for one resident, considering the current housing area in HCMC is 25.7 sq.m. per person.

Architect Nguyen Ngoc Dung said real estate developers will seek permission to build room-sized apartments as long as they see a demand from homebuyers.

However, the Ministry of Construction, with its role as a "gatekeeper," should not support it, Dung said. Housing development is not just about meeting the demands of homebuyers, and urban planners also need to take into account many other factors, including existing public infrastructure and future plans for each city, he said.

Small studio apartments of between 20 and 30 sq.m. are not rare in other countries, but the difference is they are well managed and usually function only as a hotel room or a dormitory room, with cooking activities being restricted, he said.

In Vietnam, where housing management is not strict enough, the rise in the number of small apartments will lead to overpopulation in certain areas, putting pressure on roads, schools and healthcare facilities, Dung said, pointing out that many residents in Hanoi are already struggling with small living spaces.

"If the government greenlights mini apartments, developers will jump in immediately to build them"¦ creating a burden on infrastructure," he said.

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