Column – More to affordable home equation

HOUSING and Local Government Minister Zuraida Kamaruddin announced that the government will now allow student loan defaulters to be exempted from housing loan rules.

I am not sure how the CCRIS system of credit checks will allow this. A credit score in the system is affected even by the payment of utility bills.

And how have the banks reacted to the news.

This is an odd message to send to the public, isn’t it?

This move is surprising and contrary, especially when you have the National Higher Education Fund (PTPTN) restructuring its collection system to get people to pay more.

How will the upper middle class support two children, two cars and a house if they also have to pay for their student loans?

It seems that the government is determined to make sure everyone can buy a home. They have even extended the Home Ownership Campaign which removes added costs to first time homebuyers until December.

While it is fine for the campaign to be extended, we do need to ask if December will truly be the final extension, or will this lead to yet another long term subsidy.

However in mid June, a newspaper had a story of how there was an imminent increase in foreclosures.

A subsequent article said that 11,203 units of homes worth RM5.85 billion had been placed on Auctionguru.com within the first four months of this year.

So here’s the question the government has to ask itself – with an increase in foreclosures, with more people already buying a home, the costs of which they can no longer sustain, is it wise to add more such people into the home buyers category?

Isn’t a PTPTN defaulter more likely to also default on his or her home loan payments?

And at the same time, should more homeowners foreclose on their loans, leaving the bank with bad debts – will this lead to a mortgage crisis as in 2008 and 2009?

At this point, I’d like to advocate a different path – push the rental market to increased uptakes. With more developers now jumping on to the rent-to-own concept within their own companies, it makes more sense to ask more Malaysians to start considering rental properties.

For those without a home, the fact that we are now considering the concept of co-living within Kuala Lumpur, and also hostels by the Kuala Lumpur City Hall, it is time we get serious about telling Malaysians that they cannot afford a house, and thus move to renting till they can.

Zuraida is not wrong in pushing for more affordable houses to be built, nor is her deputy minister Raja Kamarul wrong in pushing for such projects to be built into properly affordable communities with access to public transport rather than in remote areas where transport costs will add to the cost of living.

However, to do these two things takes time and new policies that are still not in place.

For instance, there needs to be a policy or a way set in stone to make sure affordable housing is close to the public transport networks.

The logic for this is simple – take out the need for developers to provide parking lots for housing near a light rail transport station; this will take out the need for a car loan for homeowners to travel, and will also increase the dependence on public transport.

This should also please the developers who no longer have to worry about adding the cost of parking lots into the price of housing, the Ministry of Transport gets more ridership on their networks, and even Prasarana gets more revenue in the whole mix.

Another thing that Zuraida is doing right is to look at bolstering the income of the Bottom 40 group to make them cope with the price of housing.

However, this also needs to be applied to the middle class as well, and that is a job for the Ministry of Human Resources.

Yes, we want more Malaysians to afford homes, but giving discounts and freebies, while not looking at the bigger picture of needing better public transport links, more affordable housing projects linked to them, and adding the subject of salaries and wages, must all be taken as part and parcel of the problem.

And this is where the government needs to show that it is working to improve livelihoods, get rid of the car in urban areas, and build more affordable houses for all Malaysians.

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