Saigon's dilapidated apartments leave residents hanging in balance

By Thanh Nguyen   March 26, 2017 | 11:51 pm PT
Many residents are still risking their lives living under the decaying roofs, but the city has plans to fix the situation.

The dilapidated Ngo Gia Tu apartments, built in 1968, are located in a populous area of Ho Chi Minh City's District 10. Many residents live under decaying roofs in decrepit living conditions while facing imminent collapse. According to municipal authorities, there are nearly 500 severely dilapidated apartment buildings in the city that are threat to life and property.


Many families have built extensions to their homes using materials such as plastic and iron sheets, creating a messy look.

Authorities have recently instructed the construction department to complete a plan to renovate and construct new buildings to replace the derelict and dangerous buildings by 2020.


Tran Van Hue, a District 10 resident, has turned a stairway corner into a living space. Hue said that after he joined a post-war government program to build new economic zones in another province, his family lost their home in Ho Chi Minh City. On his return, local authorities allowed him to build this temporary residence. "My family has been living here since 1984, but it is getting cramped because there are 10 people now," said Hue.


A big chunk of the stairs at another block has crumbled away. "I have to walk quickly every time I go passed because I'm scared concrete will fall on my head," said 60-year-old Tran Thi Ha.


A family living next to a stairwell. The owner said she wanted to move to a new place but could not agree on the compensation. Despite the conditions, resettlement has remained a tricky issue for years with residents refusing to leave the buildings. Investors typically have a lack of interest in reconstruction due to the slow nature of the task, low profits and compensation issues.


A man sleeps outside a lobby. "Each apartment here is only about 38-40 square meters (400 square feet), so it is pretty cramped and can get stifling. Many people bring chairs out here to sleep," said Nguyen Than, a local resident.


The space between two blocks has become narrower. City officials have been planning to demolish dilapidated, overcrowded and perilous places such as these for years, but are still standing due to a lack of government funding.


Policies to encourage residents to move out have not been effective and it usually takes many years to evacuate crumbling apartment buildings. Residents are also reluctant to move as they are generally dissatisfied with the compensation.


"Living in a decrepit place with a polluted environment is tough, but we have got used to it. We will only move if we can find new jobs or are able to do business in a new place," said a resident named Huong.


An Quang apartment block in District 10 has been standing for nearly 50 years. In a recent assessment, the city's construction department deemed the block in need of renovation or replacement.


Tran Thi Nhu has been selling breakfasts on the 3rd floor of An Quang for more than 20 years, and she supports the relocation plan for the sake of safer living conditions. But the saleswoman is also worried about her business. "It's easy for people with money, but for us who stick to making noodles and porridge all-year-round, it is difficult to move," she said.


Rusty handrails and cracked, peeling paint on the walls are common sights inside the building.

The condition of concrete walls in Block E worries many people, who fear that an accident may happen at any time.

The crumbling concrete walls in Block E worries many residents.

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