Deserted buildings and cramped lodgings: Hà Nội’s housing paradox

A number of resettlement apartment blocks have been standing deserted in the capital city for many years now.

20-storeyed resettlement apartment building on Tạ Quang Bửu Street in Hà Nội is still uninhabited.-Photo tienphong.vn

At the same time, thousands live in highly cramped, poorly maintained lodgings.

A Tiền Phong (Vanguard) report lays the blame for this paradox squarely on city authorities, saying their tardiness in resolving issues related to the resettlement houses has led to this mess.

Towering over the Tạ Quang Bửu Street in Hai Bà Trưng District, a 20-storeyed apartment building is hard to ignore, both for its size and the distinct lack of people who should be living there.

The building, with some 150 apartments, is a resettlement project built with investment from the Housing Innovation & Development Joint-stock Company.

Two years ago, the investor carried out the completion phase of this building after a hiatus of many years. Excitement and expectations ran high then, that people could finally have a place to live, even better than their previous homes in the downtown area.

But, two years on, the building is still uninhibited.

It hasn’t welcomed even one resident, but the building has begun showing signs of dilapidation - rusty fire escape, damp walls, crumbling plaster coat and stained ceilings.

Some resourceful locals in the neighborhood have availed themselves of the opportunity to use the large abandoned grounds around the building, which should have been gardens, a welcome sight in the busy city – to raise chickens and grow vegetables.

The Hai Bà Trưng District’s People’s Committee blames the situation on legal obstacles that the investor hasn’t been able to overcome.

District authorities have repeatedly pushed the municipal People’s Committee to review and solve once-and-for-all all the difficulties so that they can begin allocating the houses, but to no avail so far.

The investor, however, blames the city authorities for not having drawn up a feasible plan for people to move into the resettlement apartment buildings.

Nguyễn Vinh Quang, Chief Construction Inspector with Hai Bà Trưng District, confirmed that the project has reached 90 per cent completion, but without proper documents, the building cannot be put into use.

Resettlement building C1 in Trung Hoà, Cầu Giấy District, invested in by Vinaconex 1, has been standing idle for more than three years.

Đinh Hoàng Diệp, Deputy General Director of Vinaconex 1, said the company has waited for several years but city authorities have yet to approve which form of investment is acceptable; whether the investor should bring out the necessary capital and the city buys the building back; or, city will use its own budget to invest in it.

At the moment, the city has poured some VNĐ80 billion ($3.5 million) into the project. The longer it is delayed, the bigger the loss the company will have to suffer.

“We are still awaiting the People’s Committee’s go-ahead to invest in the building in the form of ‘socialisation’. However, the city must also approve the apartment price so the company can adjust [its plan] accordingly,” Diệp said.

“Before, the project was intended for civil servants, so the apartment area was bigger. But now, since the building has been earmarked for resettlement, apartments with areas larger than 100sq.m. will have to be cut back (resized). So far, the [administrative] procedures have not been done,” he added.

Appellation changed

According to the municipal Department of Construction, architectural plans for most resettlement housing projects have been approved, but implementation has been slow, mostly due to reasons outlined by Vinaconex’s Diệp.

Most projects were initially approved as commercial apartment projects or housing projects for civil servants. Conversion to resettlement housing would take a lot of time and effort.

On the other hand, many projects, initially approved as resettlement housing projects, have been converted to other types, leading to the current shortage and deserted buildings.

Another factor is financial difficulties faced by some investors, halting construction for indeterminate periods.

The above shortcomings related to resettlement housing have been pointed out during numerous meetings between the Ministry of Construction and the Hà Nội People’s Committee.

Accordingly, the Ministry proposed that the “resettlement houses” appellation be dropped completely, and that licenses are not granted for new resettlement projects. Instead, a number of apartments in social housing projects can be set aside to serve resettlement programmes.

The ministry has also said that investors must pay due attention to the quality of buildings in social housing projects. The responsibility to manage and to maintain the buildings will also lie with the investor.

Previously, resettlement houses were built with capital sourced from the State Budget. Upon completion, the contractor handed the buildings over to the management board, which then passed them on to the state-owned Hà Nội Housing Development and Management Company.

The lack of unified management and unclear division of responsibilities between these agencies have seen many resettlement houses neglected.

Trần Chủng, former Director-General of the State Agency for Construction Quality Inspection under the Ministry of Construction, said that only when the investors are held accountable for the quality of their buildings can the quality of resettlement houses be ascertained.

The replacement of resettlement houses by social housing projects may solve the issue of apartments’ area or price, but the quality of such apartments remains a concern, as evidenced by many low-quality social housing projects in the city, he said.

The problem can only be addressed effectively if there is a thorough and strict management right from the construction phase to post-project assessments, he added.

Source VNS