Relocated residents forced into poverty

TN News

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Families displaced by infrastructure projects find themselves barely scraping by in crumbling tenements.

Every morning, Le Van Thanh’s tap spews out a black, coffee-like liquid, which he then filters and boils to use for cooking throughout the day.

He says that’s the way it’s been for several years at the An Suong Apartments, which were built to house residents relocated after infrastructure projects displaced them from their homes.

Cockroaches have been found in the buildings’ tap water storage tank, which provides water to 200 households at the tenement in Ho Chi Minh City’s District 12. Local residents also complain the tank has become contaminated with polluted groundwater.

But water is just the beginning of the problem for An Suong residents, who also complain that their homes are falling apart and that they receive no social welfare benefits and face no solid employment opportunities.

Slipping through the cracks

“All apartments in the block have deteriorated in one way or another,” said Le Thi Tuc who resettled at An Suong’s block A three years ago. “There are several cracks on my walls and ceiling and rainwater always leaks in.”

She said her neighbor’s fourth-floor window suddenly dropped to the ground and shattered without warning recently.

Most residents complain of cracks, leaks and broken tiles in the An Suong buildings, which were built in only 2005.

The conditions are the same at the Ly Chieu Hoang Apartments in Binh Tan District, which opened in 2006 for residents relocated by the East-West Highway Project, HCMC’s biggest-ever infrastructure project. Many residents said they found cracks in their walls immediately after moving in.

“The tap water broke the first time I used it after moving in,” said Tran Cuong from block A. “We had to change all the locks because none of the ones provided worked.” Several of the building’s windows have also been blown to the ground by strong winds, Cuong added.

Ly Chieu Hoang residents have tried to fill in the cracks with plaster but they said the ruptures just developed again soon after. Worse, the foundation of block A has sunk up to 20 centimeters deeper into the ground since it was built.

No support

Ly Chieu Hoang residents used to own houses on District 5’s Ben Ham Tu Street and District 6’s Tran Van Kieu Street, both bustling avenues on which they had opened shops selling traditional medicine and construction materials.

However, finding new work has not been easy after displacement and many have been forced to work odd jobs or as laborers for hire whenever they can.

“The government has offered us low-interest loans to help us change our jobs. But how can we repay the loans until we find a stable job? We need new jobs, not loans,” said Tran Cuong from Ly Chieu Hoang.

An 8,000-square-meter area around the apartment had been zoned as a park that was never built.

The apartment residents also said local health agency had refused to spray mosquito-repellent around the apartments arguing that the local mosquito variety was not dangerous.

Policy shenanigans

In Vietnam, residents displaced by infrastructure projects often receive compensation including cash and the right to buy new apartments or land plots at special prices.

But many residents who received such land plots haven’t been able to resettle because they can’t afford to build homes that meet the rigid criteria for new residential areas.

Often, residents are compelled by law to build homes of more than one-story in new residential areas.

Tran Trung Dung of the Tan Thoi Nhat resettlement area estimated that some 370 of the 761 land p lots at the site had been sold to residents displaced under several infrastructure projects, including a project to widen the nearby Truong Chinh Street stretching from Tan Binh District to District 12.

However, he said only 100 houses had so far been constructed in the area and only 16 of them belonged to families relocated under the appropriate projects. Others had bought the land from the displaced residents.

Dung said anyone wanting to build there was originally required to construct a three-story house, which could cost up to VND800 million (US$43,325), which most of the displaced couldn’t afford.

“Most relocated residents sold their land plots for between VND300 million and VND400 million each in 2003 and 2004,” he said.

Dung said many people complained about the construction requirements and authorities eventually allowed them to build one-story homes there.

“But many had sold their land before they were allowed to construct less expensive houses,” he said.

Reported by Tran Thanh Binh â€" Phuong Thanh

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