Nguyen Quoc Khanh in a villa abandoned by its owner in Hanoi. The poor man has used it as his temporary home despite its dilapidation and unsafe location. Photo courtesy of Tuoi Tre
Nguyen Quoc Khanh wore a sad face sitting inside a villa in Hanoi looking out the front door to his empty café on a rainy morning.
The plastic stool businessman has been borrowing the half-finished ghost villa and is using it as his temporary home-cafe.
The frozen real estate market has given birth to many abandoned buildings, though many are not empty.
Many of the city's poorest and homeless have braved the utility-less conditions and unsafe neighborhoods in order to have a sturdy roof over their families' heads.
Khanh told Tuoi Tre that the house he is living in has been abandoned for ten years now. "I've been here for a long time but never seen the owner."
The man of around 60 years old from the northern province of Thanh Hoa said he has never been able to afford rent in the capital city since moving to Hanoi several years ago.
He'd been working at construction sites and people kept owing him wages.
Then one day, via a middleman, he was hired to clean the villa at Van Quan urban area in Ha Dong District, weeding its yards, for VND1 million (US$47).
"You cannot imagine how terrible a villa would look after being left for so long. Weeds were all over the place, and vines were climbing up to the third floor. Syringes of drug addicts were every where, and garbage was as high as your head.
"There's also this terrible stink as the house has been used as a public toilet."
Khanh said it took him and another friend three days to "basically" clean the house, but the owner never showed up with his money, so he decided to stay there.
But he said living in the villa, once priced VND17 billion ($806,000), has been no happiness, as people have been used to treating it as a public toilet and a dumping site, and he has to watch out for them, and there's no water, power, or doors.
He said apart from the café, he and his wife have a bicycle as their only other asset. They're also available for fixing bicycles and motorbikes for small money.
The couple used old furniture dumped by rich people for their dining and sleeping places.
At Van Khe urban area in the same district, at least 20 villas and terraced houses have been abandoned by their owners, and some have been used as home by around 20 workers for three years now.
The workers from Hanoi's outskirts work for a construction company tasked with installing utility equipment for VND3-4 million ($142-190) a month and cannot afford proper homes.
A makeshift faÃ§ade can be seen around a home shared by ten workers, with each room equipped with only bunk beds, several water bottles and several strings for hanging clothes.
Nguyen Trong Hoang, who shares one house with nine others, said their company helped with bringing over power and water supplies.
They share toilets at the end of the row houses as each does not have its own yet.
"We just have no other choice than living here," Hoang said.
He said the houses lack everything, and they dare not go out at night as the neighborhood is not safe.
Drug use is so prominent they worry about stepping on syringes when they go outside.
But the workers also have some neighbors of the same plight women from Phu Tho Province who are doing odd jobs in Hanoi. Some have stayed there for seven years, while a young high school graduate arrived recently.
Ngoc Thi Bang, 51, who has lived in the area for five years, said her biggest problems are mosquitoes and thieves.
"Anything left loose will be lost. We don't even dare to air clothes outdoors."
Hanoi's latest statistics showed that around 655 villas and 574 terraced houses in the city have been abandoned after finishing the frames or the outer parts.
Mo Lao urban area in the district has the most abandoned houses, but unlike in the other two areas, Mo Lao houses are in better status and their owners still watch out for them and charge tenants rent.
Le Ngoc Binh, a renter, said he has to pay VND7 million a month for a three-story house, but the eatery he opened is not doing well due to the unpopulated neighborhood, so he has tried to rent out the second and third stories of the house, but received no responses yet.
Binh said he opened the eatery in the area as it costs too much to do one in crowded streets in the city.
Some poor people have been allowed to open small cafés for free in front of unoccupied houses in Mo Lao area.
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