Borei Keila: Cambodia's Social Housing Project Five Years On

Published on December 19, 2008
Borei Keila residents are still waiting for apartments while they live in squalor

The Borei Keila social land concession: the Government's commitment to housing Phnom Penh's urban poor - new apartments for families in exchange for land given to commercial developers. Borei Keila was the first of four social land concessions in Phnom Penh and was meant to be the model alternative to the eviction and off-site relocation of the city's urban poor. Now over 5 years later, only 3 out of 10 apartment buildings have been completed and only 30% of families have received their promised apartments while the remaining families continue to live in squalid conditions awaiting the construction and allocation of their apartments.

A brief history
Borei Keila is located opposite Bak Tuok High School in Veal Vong commune, 7 Makara district, central Phnom Penh. It housed approximately 1,776 families, including 515 families who rented and 86 families affected by HIV/AIDS. Villagers first settled on the land, which was the site of a police training facility, in 1992.

In early 2003, a "land-sharing" arrangement was proposed for Borei Keila, which allowed a private company to develop part of the area for commercial purposes while providing alternative housing to the residents on the remaining land. The idea was hailed because rather than being evicted, villagers would receive compensation for their land in the form of apartments in newly-constructed buildings.

In June 2003, Prime Minister Hun Sen authorized a social land concession for approximately 4.6 hectares of Borei Keila (30% of the total 14.12 hectares of land). Construction giant Phanimex company was contracted by the government to construct 10 apartment buildings on 2 hectares of land for the villagers, in return for obtaining ownership of an additional 2.6 hectares for commercial development.

Municipal and district authorities conducted a survey of the area, and as a result, 1,776 families were identified to receive apartments on the site. In addition to home owners, renters were also eligible for apartments if they had lived in Borei Keila for at least three years.
By May 2007, the Phnom Penh municipality had allocated apartments to only 335 families, including 14 HIV/AIDS-affected families. More than 100 other families, their houses demolished to clear space for new apartment buildings, were left living under tarpaulins in squalid conditions.

Apartment Allocation Process
Now, more than five years since the social land concession was given, 1,254 families are still awaiting apartments. Only 522 families have received apartments from the Phnom Penh municipality; these are located in Buildings A, B and C.

Seven additional buildings are presently under construction with buildings D, E and F nearly complete. There is ample space to provide housing for all families according to the original concession; however allegations of corruption and irregularities in the allocation process have plagued Borei Keilas' residents. There have been reports that some families now living in new apartments had never been residents of Borei Keila at all.

Residents who are eligible for apartments have so far been denied them, including 25 families who have been waiting since March 2007. The 25 were among a total of 28 families identified as being eligible through a transparent screening process conducted then by the Phnom Penh Municipality and local organizations including LICADHO. However, municipality subsequently reneged on this agreement, and gave apartments to only three families, refusing to give them to the remainder.

Currently there are approximately 120 families waiting for apartments who are living in temporary shelters erected next to the construction site of the buildings.

HIV/AIDS-affected families under threat of imminent eviction
Of particular concern is the authorities' plan to evict about 47 families, the majority of them affected by HIV/AIDS, in the near future in order to clear space for the construction of a new Ministry of Tourism building.

In early 2008, the government approved the ministry to build its new premises at the Borei Keila site and Borei Keilia's developer, Phanimex, received a contract to construct the new ministry building, to be completed in 2011.

The 47 families are living on the building's construction site in a temporary shelter known as the "green shed". They were moved there by the authorities when their houses were demolished in March 2007 to make way for the construction of the new apartments. Of the 47 families living in the green shed, about 32 are HIV/AIDS affected. Throughout the whole development of Borei Keila the HIV/AIDS affected families have been largely excluded from the screening and allocation process for apartments. At least some of them are known to be eligible for apartments, but have so far been deprived of them.

The municipality is now planning to relocate the HIV/AIDS families from the green shed to Toul Sambo, a site 20 km from Phnom Penh where sanitation and health services for them are extremely deficient. The relocation site cannot provide adequate living conditions for individuals living with HIV-AIDS, or even for perfectly healthy individuals. The families will face serious public health dangers at the site and, because of the distance from Phnom Penh, will have limited access to vital medical services they are currently getting. Most of these families, who are barely surviving now, will also lose prospects for income generation and become more desperate.

Additionally, the plan has been criticized because it would essentially create an "AIDS ghetto" with a large number of HIV-affected families segregated together in one place at Toul Sambo. Such a segregation, as well as refusal of housing to those qualified for apartments in Borei Keila discriminates against the families based on their HIV/AIDS status violates Cambodia's Law on Prevention and Control of HIV/AIDS.

LICADHO reiterates its call for a transparent and fair apartment allocation process. Those families who meet the criteria for apartments should receive them without delay, including the 25 families who have been waiting since March 2007 for them. An investigation should be held into alleged corruption which has allegedly seen people who are not eligible for apartments being granted them. No-one should be evicted from the green shed, or elsewhere at Borei Keila, until they have been properly screened for eligibility for apartments. Lastly, adequate solutions must be found for special humanitarian cases (such as any families with HIV or other serious health problems who are not qualified for apartments), which ensure that their medical, livelihood and other essential needs are met.