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Moving slum dwellers is good, or is it?

HÀ NỘI — Although pleased to know his house will be relocated from the filthy slum along the Đôi Canal in HCM City’s District 8, Huỳnh Văn Quý is worried he won’t be able to afford a new home.

The house that Quý has been living in for the last 60 years is about 16m long. With half of it supported by frail wood columns anchored in the canal, the house shakes vigorously during heavy rainfall and whenever a motorboat passes, according to the 77-year-old resident.

Despite the risks involved in such habitation, low-income residents like Quý are both pleased and anxious about being moved. “It’s such a relief that we will get rid of the stinky wastewater and garbage and risks of disease,” he told the Tiền Phong (Vanguard) newspaper. “But I don’t know if we will be able to rent an apartment once we’ve moved away.”

A slum along the Đôi Canal in District 8 of HCM City.
A slum along the Đôi Canal in District 8 of HCM City.

Some 20,000 households are set to be relocated from slums along canals and rivers in districts 4, 7 and 8 by 2025, the newspaper reported. The relocation process will be divided into two phases, 2016-20 and 2020-25.

Lack of funds has been blamed for the slow relocation progress. The plans require about VNĐ30.8 trillion (US$1.37 billion) while the current budget is only VNĐ2.1 trillion ($93 million), according to the city’s planning and investment department.

Resident Nguyễn Văn Bằng of District 8, whose house is located on the Đôi Canal, is worried about losing his livelihood of selling electronic parts if he moves away. “I will lose all the scrap dealers that I trade with since they all live around here,” he said. “We will probably go back to our hometown if it’s compulsory that we move away from the canal.”

While the decision to “tidy up and freshen up” the city is a positive one, said economic expert Lê Bá Chí Nhân, the task of relocating such a large number of households raises several issues that need to be addressed.

Residents care most about maintaining livelihoods and sending their children to school, which is the reason why the majority are cautious about moving away from the places they’ve been living for years, he said.

“The task of developing and connecting infrastructure and traffic systems for these 20,000 households is also a tough nut to crack,” he added. “They should be provided with medical and community values in order not to return to their old way of living.”

Whether and how to sell apartments to these residents must also be studied carefully since they are mostly low-income labourers, Nhân added. He suggested the city consider construction of apartment complexes for residents in exchange for public lands to contractors.

A dilemma

A similar relocation project was carried out for slum dwellers near the Ụ Cây Canal in Ward 10 of District 8 in 2010.

For the past seven years, these residents haven’t been able to stablise their lives in the social housing complexes of An Sương in District 12 and Tân Mỹ in District 7 to which they were relocated.

Trương Thị Hương, 48, a bread vendor in the Tân Mỹ complex, said she has lost business since moving there. “I had a steady income back then though little, going around selling bread in District 8,” she said. “This place is nice, but I’ve got virtually no one to sell bread to since there are too few residents here.”

“I often go back to my old place to sell bread there during the day and only come home at night to sleep,” she added.

Unable to secure an apartment in the An Sương complex in 2010, Nguyễn Văn Lình, 57, has been renting one for the past seven years. Having an unstable job and rising rents have landed Lình hundreds of million đồng in debts. “I can’t buy the apartment in installments even if I want to, since the authorities said I have to pay off all my debts before even thinking of buying it,” he said.

“There’s no way I will be able to pay off the debts, let alone putting in some VNĐ10 million ($440) each month to buy the apartment,” he said.