Urban management nightmare awaits, architects and planners warn
A woman prepares food inside her 16-square-meter apartment at the Nguyen Cong Tru Apartment Building in Hanoi. The kitchen and the toilet share the same area due to the lack of space.
Experts have strongly criticized the recent decision by the Ministry of Construction to allow small apartments of only 20 square meters, ignoring concerns of adverse urban management outcomes.
Doan Trinh Hien, a lecturer at the Ho Chi Minh City Architecture University, said the decision was "hasty" and "inexplicable."
If the ministry wanted to allow small apartments on a pilot basis, it needed to create a plan with specific conditions and requirements instead of just giving the okay, he said.
Construction projects have to be planned carefully, or else the country will have to keep dealing with consequences left over from the past, he said.
The Ministry of Construction last week approved Dat Lanh Real Estate Company's proposal to develop efficiency apartments of 20 sq.m. in HCMC.
Vietnam's Housing Law stipulates that an apartment should have a minimum area of 45 sqm, but the ministry said if demand for small-sized apartments is high, the city can carry out such a project on a pilot basis.
But architect Nguyen Ngoc Dung said the terms "pilot" or "trial" are unacceptable when it comes to urban planning.
Everything has to be considered carefully before it is implemented, he said.
The green light given to this project will incite many other developers to build similar super small apartments, creating architectural "garbage" in the city and putting pressure on public infrastructure, Dung said.
Nguyen Van Duc, deputy director of Dat Lanh, said if approved by the city authorities his company will build 300 efficiency apartments in District 12 this year. The apartments, costing VND300 million (US$15,800) each, would be suitable for single people, he said.
However, experts doubt that the number of residents can be restricted to only one or two as planned.
Lawyer Tran Van Thu of HCMC-based Saigon Civil Lawyers Office said once home buyers have received their title deeds, they can do whatever they want with their properties.
Existing laws do not restrict the number of residents in an apartment, which means owners have the right to allow many people to live in the apartment, Thu said, noting that regulations set by building managers do not replace laws.
Nguyen The Ba, honorary chairman of the Vietnam Urban Development Planning Association, said other countries only allow studio apartments because they have good infrastructure and public services, and more importantly they don't have large extended families like in Vietnam.
Vietnam needs to learn from the lesson of many small-sized but overcrowded apartments that are deteriorating rapidly and damaging the city landscape, Ba said.
Tran Chung, a former official at the Ministry of Construction, said small apartments can be built if needed, but there will be difficulties in management.
"It's possible that developers will not pay attention to the number of people living in an apartment after they have collected money from buyers. Who can say for sure that only one or two people will live in the apartment?"
Chung said Vietnam once developed small apartments for public servants and employees at state-owned enterprises, but then such apartments became homes for three or four different families, creating slums in the cities.
Many families in the inner city of Hanoi are now victims of this problem. As they don't have money to move to new houses, they have to live in small apartments built decades ago.
They say when the families grow bigger, such apartments turn into a "living hell" that they have to endure every day.
Pham Thi Kim Yen, a resident at an apartment building for workers of Hanoi-based textile firm Doximex, said many generations live together in the tiny 16-square-meter apartments. Some apartments even have 11-13 people staying in them.
There is not enough space to build walls or doors and curtains are put up to give quasi-privacy to family members. If a person needs to use the bathroom, the others need to leave the kitchen area. They even have to take turns to have dinner every night because it's impossible to sit together.
Thao, a resident at an apartment building in Hai Ba Trung District, said he objected to the idea of building super small apartments in HCMC.
"If such apartments are allowed, who can ensure that in the next 40 years they will not become the same place where we have to live so miserably now?
THE EFFICIENCY MODEL
The model apartment introduced by Dat Lanh is around 2.8 meters wide and 7 meters long. It has kitchen and bathroom facilities.
A fold-up bed is placed in the largest space of the apartment and it can also function as a working desk, a dressing table and a dining table.
Dat Lanh said it has conducted a survey and more than 80 percent of respondents supported the idea to build such an apartment.
But architect Nguyen Ngoc Dung said the apartment is too small and is more like a room than a flat.