Southern HCMC residents' hopes for a better life go south

By Ha An   April 6, 2021 | 07:47 am GMT+7
20 years on, many residential projects approved in southern HCMC remain stillborn, dashing the hopes of thousands and consigning them to misery and dejection.

The "road" leading to the Thang Long residential project forces drivers to proceed slowly. Running alongside an open canal with blackish, garbage filled sewage, the road is not paved with asphalt or concrete and remains a rocky one to negotiate.

A resident living in the neighborhood for 30 years, Nguyen Thi Binh Thuy, 57, said the rocky road has actually been "upgraded," with work done to elevate it with rocks and gravel. Before the "upgrade," it was a soil path that got flooded and slushy every time it rained.

In 2001, on hearing that a residential project would come up in the area, Thuy and many neighbors had high hopes that they could escape from a slum and begin living in a neighborhood with better roads and modern conveniences like supermarkets, even shopping malls.

Twenty years since the project was approved, no significant change has happened, except a small one to the main road in the neighborhood. The locals have received no clear explanation for the limbo they have been thrust into, expect that the project has encountered "some issues."

A canal fills up with garbage along the Thang Long residential project in HCMCs Binh Chanh District, April 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Ha An

A canal fills up with garbage along the Thang Long residential project in HCMC's Binh Chanh District, April 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Ha An.

As has happened elsewhere, things have become worse for locals because they are not allowed to make changes to their houses, no matter how downgraded they become.

Thuy has occasionally seen "groups of people carrying notebooks and tools, measuring each house in the area and taking lots of notes."

When she asks them about the project being implemented and how site clearance and compensation will take place, she gets a curt answer: "It's going to take a long time. This is just the step of taking notes."

Twenty years after the project was announced, Thuy’s family has been stuck in a one-floor house with an area of around 70 square meters.

Seven years ago, a storm blew away five pieces of the old and rusty metal roof of her house. She and her husband fixed the roof fearful of violating regulations. They have been told that the residential project does not allow houses to be repaired.

Flooding during the rainy season remains a nightmare for her family. Floodwaters would flow into the house that is located at a lower level than the street. Five years ago, seeing no hope in the so-called residential project and having suffered enough from the flooding, her family had decided to lift the house’s floor.

Soon after, local officials came by and forced them to stop. Thuy said she had to try "many different ways" to persuade the officials to lift the floor and get some respite from the flooding.

Thuy is frustrated. Because of the project, she is yet to get an ownership certificate for the house she has been living in for decades.

Nguyen Thi Bich Thuy stands in front of her house that belong to the Thang Long residential project in HCMCs Binh Chanh District, March 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Ha An

Nguyen Thi Bich Thuy stands in front of her house that belong to the Thang Long residential project in HCMC's Binh Chanh District, March 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Ha An.

Around one kilometer away from Thuy’s neighborhood, another residential project called 9A2 was launched in Binh Hung Commune, Binh Chanh District. This one also has remained on hold for almost 20 years.

Le Thi Phi, 64, a local resident, earns her living renting out small apartments to poor people from other provinces who come to HCMC for work.

Phi said the apartments are in bad shape and in dire need of being fixed, but she is not allowed to do anything to renovate them.

She has a land plot of more than 4,000 square meters that she wants to divide among her four children, but she is not allowed to do this either.

She has been living with her children and grandchildren in a one-floor house surrounded by polluted canals and garbage.

The families of Thuy and Phi are among thousands living in areas that come under 13 projects approved in 1999-2003 to become new residential areas in the southern part of HCMC.

Not one of these projects has been implemented for various reasons including site clearance and investment capital.

End it, say inspectors

A family in the Binh Chanh District has to live in a makeshift house as they are not allowed to build any concrete project, April 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Ha An

A family in the Binh Chanh District has to live in a makeshift house as they are not allowed to build any concrete project, April 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Ha An.

All the 13 projects, around eight km from downtown HCMC, fall under the Saigon South New Urban Area mega project that was approved by the government in 1994.

As planned, the area, covering 2,600 hectares, would have 22 "functional zones" with different economic development purposes. It would house 500,000 people, replacing a low-lying, agricultural and poor area with a modern urban area. More than 97 development projects have been approved under the overall project. So far 54 have been completed.

The Government Inspectorate recently proposed to the prime minister that all the dormant projects are canceled.

They have blamed the HCMC administration and the management board of the city’s southern part for approving the projects "without evaluating the capacities of the investors.

"Most projects in the southern part of the city have breached regulations on investment procedures," they have said.

Pham Van Tai, deputy head of the board, said following the conclusion by the government inspectors, the board has suggested that the city administration guides related agencies to review all the delayed projects, identify main reasons and assess the impacts on local residents.

After the review, the city can decide if the investors should receive help with continuing the projects or replace them with new investors.

Residents like Thuy are not impressed.

She said: "Now my only wish is that the project is ended so that people can live normal lives."

 
 
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