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This paper looks at the origins, location and physical characteristics of slums in Bangkok, as well as the socio-economic status of slum-dwellers. I also examine and critique government policies ...

This paper looks at the origins, location and physical characteristics of slums in Bangkok, as well as the socio-economic status of slum-dwellers. I also examine and critique government policies towards the slums and conclude with my perspective on the future of the slums.

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The Eyesore in the City of Angels: Slums in Bangkok The Eyesore in the City of Angels: Slums in Bangkok Document Transcript

  • The Eyesore in the City of Angels: Slums in BangkokPlease contact xingledout[at]gmail.com if you’d like to use any information from this paper.
  • CONTENTSLIST OF TABLES .................................................................................................................................. IIINTRODUCTION ................................................................................................................................... 1SLUMS: DEFINITION ........................................................................................................................... 2TABLE 1: NUMBER OF SLUMS IN THAILAND, 2000 ................................................................... 2SLUMS: ORIGIN AND EXPANSION .................................................................................................. 4 History of slums........................................................................................................ 5 Location of slums today ........................................................................................... 6SLUMS: PEOPLE ................................................................................................................................... 9 Socio-economic aspects ............................................................................................ 9 Education ................................................................................................................ 12 Myth 1: “They all migrated from the Northeast” ............................................... 13SLUMS: GOVERNMENT POLICIES ............................................................................................... 18 Macro policies......................................................................................................... 18 Housing policies...................................................................................................... 19 Policy assessment ................................................................................................... 20SLUMS: FUTURE................................................................................................................................. 23REFERENCES ...................................................................................................................................... 25LIST OF TABLESTable 1: Number of slums in 2000 ............................................................................................................2Table 2: Location of slum housing in relation to the city centre ...............................................................8Table 3: General socio-economic data of slums in Bangkok, 1994 ........................................................11Table 4: Occupations of slum-dwellers and other Bangkokians .............................................................15Table 5: Selected monthly per capita income at 1993 prices ..................................................................16Table 6: Assets of slum-dwellers ............................................................................................................18LIST OF FIGURESFigure 1: Move-in and move-out statistics ................................................................................................5Figure 2: Map of slums in Bangkok, 1985 ................................................................................................7Figure 3: Slums evicted from 1984 to 1988 ..............................................................................................8Figure 4: Map of slums in Bangkok, 2003 ..............................................................................................10Figure 5: Map of slum population in Bangkok, 2003 .............................................................................10Figure 6: Education of slum dwellers ......................................................................................................12Figure 7: Comparing Bangkok as birth place between head of household and all household members 14Figure 8: Suan Phlu slum community at football field............................................................................22Figure 9: Suan Phlu slum community back on original site ....................................................................22 ii
  • Introduction In October 2003, a giant banner – reportedly the largest in the world – wasstrung up along a stretch of the Chao Phraya river to welcome Pacific Rim leadersdescending on Bangkok for the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) meeting.Emblazoned with the image of Bangkok’s stunning Grand Palace, the 360m-by-10mbanner was ostensibly used to greet the group’s foreign affairs and trade ministerswith the message, “A Warm Welcome to Thailand to All Apec Delegates”. But thereal intention behind the nine-million-baht banner was actually to hide the riversideslum, the Tha Thien community, so that the hallowed eyes of the dignitaries areshielded from the eyesore as they cruise down the river. “The purpose is to improvethe landscape at Tha Thien area,” a Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA)official told journalists. “There was no opposition from the residents. As a matter offact, they were in favour of the project…” (The Nation, 2003). One would think thatnine million baht spent on upgrading the community would probably go a longer waythan on a banner. The ubiquitous slum1 – or “crowded community” as the Thaigovernment prefers to call it now – with its rickety dwellings, dirty and overcrowdedconditions has long been an embarrassing thorn in the flesh for the government as itpushes the country towards developed nation status. This paper looks at the origins,location and physical characteristics of slums in Bangkok, as well as the socio-economic status of slum-dwellers. I will also examine and critique governmentpolicies towards the slums and conclude with my perspective on the future of theslums.1 In this paper, I will use the term slums instead of “crowded communities” because it is still widelyused on government websites and publications by the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration. 1
  • Slums: Definition The National Housing Authority defines a slum as “a dirty, damp, swampy orunhealthy area with overcrowded buildings and dwellers (sic) which can be harmfulfor health or lives or can be a source of unlawful or immoral actions. The minimumnumber of housing units per rai (1,600 sq metres) is 15”. Table 1: Number of slums in Thailand, 2000URBAN COMMUNITIES HOUSE- SLUM POPULATION TOTAL SLUMCENTRES TOT SQUATT HOLDS NUMBER /UNI /HH POPULA- POP (%) AL ERS (HH) T TION NO %BANGKOK 796 125 16 196,354 1,099,575 8.0 5.6 5,680,380 19NONTHAB 60 10 17 6,994 34,970 7.4 5.0 859,607 4URIPATHUM 93 28 30 17.099 85,495 8.0 5.0 654,701 13THANISAMUT 207 13 6 41,456 207,280 7.0 5.0 995,838 21PRAKANSAMUT 62 4 6 8,838 44,190 8.0 5.0 428,814 10SAKHONNAKHON 30 1 3 3,038 15,190 5.7 5.0 781,138 2PATHOMBMR 1,248 181 15 273,779 1,486,700 7.8 5.4 9,400,478 16TOTALPROVINCI 341 112 33 62,673 277,172 5.3 4.4 52,478,268 1AL CITIESTHAILAND 1,589 293 18 336,452 1,736,872 7.2 5.2 61,878,746 3TOTALNote: BMR refers to the Bangkok Metropolitan Area and includes Bangkok and five other neighbouring provinces:Nonthaburi, Pathum Thani, Samut Prakan, Samut Sakhon and Nakhon Pathom.Source: Figures compiled from the National Housing Authority (2000a-e) and Agency for Real Estate Affairs(1996a). In Thailand, slums and squatter settlements are similar in their derelictappearance. The only difference is in legal status. Slums are legal in that they existon a house/land rent basis. On the other hand, squatter settlements are illegallylocated on others’ land without permission. The illegality of squatter settlementsexcludes them from upgrading programmes. For example, Khlong Toei, the largestsettlement in Bangkok is actually a squatter settlement although it is referred to as aslum (Sopon 1985:2). Squatters are not a major problem in Thailand, except in 2
  • Pathum Thani where a large number of people squat on the public land along theirrigation canals (Table 1). In the past, “chumchon bukruk” (illegal community) was the old term used bygovernment officials for illegal squatter settlements but people never used it. Theypreferred “chumchon bukberk” (pioneering community) since it puts a more upbeatlight on the process of informal settling. Both terms, or just chumchon, werecommonly used until 1982 when “chumchon aai aat” (crowded community) wasintroduced by Dammrong Lathapipat, the then-Governor of National HousingAuthority with the approval of the Cabinet. This perhaps reflects the NHA’s attemptto shift its approach to the slum problem – from viewing it as a dilapidated area thatneeds to be cleared to seeing it as a community that needs upgrading (Akin, 1999). Slums are identified by four major physical components – overcrowdedness,limited privacy, substandard housing conditions and substandard living environment. Generally, there are more than 38 units per acre in a slum compound. Anaverage slum household has 5.6 members, compared to Bangkok’s 3.3. But theaverage slum house houses eight people because part of the unit is usually sublet toothers (Table 1). So a slum house is almost three times more crowded than otherhousing units in Bangkok. Moreover, houses in the slum are built next to otherswithout any planned pattern. Often, new houses in the compound spring up inwhatever little space left between existing houses, leading to little privacy for theslum-dwellers. Although it results in a high degree of interaction among them,tempers are sometimes frayed because of the close proximity. Slums have a make-shift, dilapidated and deteriorated air about them becausethe houses are usually made of wood, with corrugated iron sheets for roofs. Yet these 3
  • wooden houses will not be out of place, much less considered an eyesore, in a ruralvillage. They would just be considered rural houses. So it seems that it is thesophisticated urban environment that “causes” these rural houses to be labelled asslum houses. The ground on the slum compound is usually wet as there is typicallyno land-filling before housing construction. Drainage is a problem in many slumswhile sewage is discharged to a septic tank. Almost all dwellers get access to potablepiped water and electricity supplies. But drugs, alcoholism, gambling and other socialills are usually rampant in these communities.Slums: Origin and Expansion Thailand has a total slum population of 1,763,872 (Table 1). About 60 percent of that population is concentrated in Bangkok alone. This is hardly surprisinggiven its status as a primate city where all socio-economic and political activities areclustered. Slum-dwellers make up 19 per cent of Bangkok’s population. According to the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration, there were 1,720slums in Bangkok, housing 1,629,155 people in 2003. But according to the NationalHousing Authority (NHA), there were 796 slums housing 1,099,575 people in 2000.Even after accounting for the natural birth increase from 2000 to 2003, which was2.89%, there is still a difference of 497,802 slum-dwellers. There also could not havebeen a sudden influx of in-migration because more people move out than move in(Figure 1). The big discrepancy in figures can be explained in two ways. First, theNHA does not include slums with less than 50 households in their surveys. Second,while a community of 15 housing units per rai is an accepted criterion of defining aslum, some surveyors also include communities with less than that density. Tominimise confusion, I will use the NHA’s data as it has conducted more slum surveys. 4
  • Going by its figures, the number of slum settlements in Bangkok has decreased from943 in 1985 to 796 in 2000, while the slum population has gone up from 956,400 toalmost 1.1 million in the same period. This goes to show that the existing slums aregetting increasingly crowded and possibly expanding in area too. Figure 1: Move-in and Move-out Statistics 490,000 480,000 470,000 Num ber of 460,000 people 450,000 440,000 Move-in 430,000 420,000 Move-out 2000 2001 2002 Year Source: Bangkok Metropolitan Administration, 2002History of slums When Bangkok’s industrialisation took off in the 1960s, it drew many peoplefrom the rural areas to the city. During the period from 1960 to 1970, Bangkok had anet gain of 260,000 in-migrants, while the other regions in the country experiencednet losses. This amounts to an average of 26,000 people a year2. In 1958, 46 per centof Bangkok’s population lived in overcrowded areas (Litchfield 1960:84). For therural migrants, the only way they could afford a roof over their head is if they rentland and build their own house. Even up to 1980, 80 per cent of Bangkok householdscould not afford a new house offered in the market. So people continued to do thesame thing – rent land of approximately 100 sq metres from the landowner at about12 baht per sq metre and build their own house (Sopon 1992:46). Land-owners also2 But Angel argues convincingly that most of the migratory movements then were from one rural areato another. Using the 1970 Census of Population, he found that of more than 3.3million moves made inthe last five years, more than 77 per cent were into rural places (1988:251). 5
  • found it profitable to lease out land in this way, especially land with bad access, suchas old fruit orchards. In 1985, half of the 1,020 slums then were located within 6.5km of the citycentre, taken as the Pathumwan Intersection (Sopon 1985:2). Figure 2 indicates thatpeople need to live near a source of employment. Income-earning opportunities, suchas those offered by the Khlong Toei Port and the former garbage dump in HuaiKwang where people can collect resaleable refuse, are the prime stimuli for theformation of these settlements. Apart from the central area of the city, there were 50distinctive commercial sub-centres that served different parts of Bangkok, forexample, Lad Phrao Intersection, Suan Phlu, Bangkhae Market, Saphan Kwai,Southern Bus Terminal and etc. These sub-centres and the slum settlements have asymbiotic relationship. The centres encourage the growth of the settlements while theslums are a source of low-cost labour for the centres.Location of slums today According to the 1988 slum survey by the National Housing Authority, theaverage distance from the slums to the centre of Bangkok, taken as PathumwanIntersection, has increased from 7.1 km in 1984 to 9.97 km in 1988 (excludingPathum Thani which was not surveyed in 1984), or 10.57km (including PathumThani). Between 1984 and 1988, 35 per cent of the slums within 5 km of the citycentre were evicted because of development pressure (Figure 3). During the sameperiod, 11,376 housing units within 10km of the city centre were demolished while aconsiderable number of slum housing units emerged in the suburban areas beyond11km from the city centre (Table 2). As more slums in the city centre were evicted,slum dwellers were forced to look for new accommodation especially because the 6
  • demolished units were not being replaced by low-income public or private housing.To remain near the city, some would rent a house or a room in an existing nearby 7
  • slum as it is unlikely there would be space to build a new house there. This wouldcause existing slums to become even more crowded. Alternatively, some would movefurther away from the centre. At the same time, new factories generating many newemployment opportunities were springing up in the urban fringe, particularly in SamutPrakan, Samut Sakhon and Pathum Thani. For example, Samut Prakan had thehighest proportion of newly established medium-sized firms of the provincessurrounding Bangkok (Lee 1988:13). Many low-income households were thusattracted to move closer to these new money-making places. Given the lack ofaffordable formal housing in these areas, households often have to find shelter ininformal settlements. The number of slums in Samut Prakan almost doubled from144 in 1984 to 278 in 1988 (Yap 1992:42). Figure 3: Slums evicted, 1984 to 1988 12% 6% 35% Distance from centre 1-5km 6-10km 47% 10-15km More than 15km Source: National Housing Authority 1988 Slum Survey Table 2: Location of slum housing in relation to the city centreDistance (km) 1974 1984 19880-5 69,738 69,906 63,9076-10 42,296 46,031 40,65411-20 23,091 36,581 47,71821-30 4,015 6,370 15,398>30 186 1,257 2,961Total 139,326 160,145 170,638Source: Padco-LIF Land Market Assessment (1990:125) The trend continues today, with more slums located on the suburban fringes,particularly in areas near to Nonthaburi and Pathum Thani, two provinces that offer 8
  • many employment opportunities (Figure 4). Nonthaburi has its factories whilePathum Thani has been the fastest growing province for 10 years, with an annualgrowth rate of 4.84 per cent (National Statistical Office, 2000). The fact that there arefewer slums near the city centre presents a deceptive picture. For example, KhlongToei’s 40 slums house 92,119 people while Lak Si’s 69 slums house only 61,944slums. The slums near the city centre, though few, still house a greater proportion ofslum-dwellers (Figure 5). This also indicates that people still prefer to live near thecity centre, hence adding on to the overcrowding of the already-congested slums.Slums: People There are generally two kinds of renters in a slum – land-renters and house-renters. A rare minority actually owns the land. The former rents a piece of land andbuild their own wooden house on it while the latter rents an existing house. House-renters are either too poor to build a house or are planning to stay there temporarily.The rent is about 500 to 1,500 baht excluding charges for water and electricitysupplies. It was estimated that the proportion of house-renters in slums was 28 percent (Sopon 1992:56). I would expect the figure to have gone up by now becausemany slums have been destroyed due to eviction, and rental housing in slums is arelatively cheap housing alternative.Socio-economic aspects As mentioned earlier, the household size in slums is generally larger than those of other Bangkokians (Table 3). Interestingly, the proportion of dependenthousehold members in slums is higher than non-slum dwellers. A third of those who live in slums are either aged below 15 or above 60 years old compared to just a quarter of those who live in formal housing units. There are also slightly more 9
  • Figure 4: Map of slums in Bangkok, 2003Source: Bangkok Metropolitan Administration, 2003 Figure 5: Map of slum population in Bangkok, 2003Source: Bangkok Metropolitan Administration, 2003 10
  • women than men in the slums. Through personal contact with the Suan Phlu slumbefore it was razed by fire last year, I discovered that this seemed to be so becausesome of the men were in jail for drug offences, some were on the run, others have justsimply abandoned their family. Table 3: General Socio-economic Data of Slums in Bangkok, 1994 BANGKOK METROPOLIS THON BURI NORTH, SOUTH EASTNO OF PEOPLE PER HOUSEHOLD 6.4 5.0 5.9DISTRIBUTION OF POPULATION0 - 4 YEARS (%) 5.9 8.2 6.95 – 14 YEARS (%) 14.3 14.6 17.315 – 59 YEARS (%) 70.7 69.6 66.760 YEARS AND OVER (%) 9.1 7.6 9.1MEDIAN AGE (YEARS) 29.5 28.3 27.6WOMEN AGED 15 – 49 YEARS (%) 62.3 62.3 61.6GENDER (MALE:100 FEMALES) 94.1 93.0 91.6HOUSEHOLDS WITH DEBTS 31.0 21.1 38.5DEBTORS (%)PARENTS OR RELATIVES 25.7 20.8 21.6NON-RELATIVES 49.6 57.8 72.3FINANCIAL INSTITUTIONS 19.4 14.7 11.8Source: National Statistical Office,1994. About 30 per cent of the slum dwellers are in debt. Because most of them donot have a steady income, banks would consider them as liabilities and not issue themloans. While a quarter turn to parents or relatives for a loan, most of them (60%)actually borrow from informal money-lenders. These could be rich people living inthe slum or gang leaders. Unfortunately, these loans usually come with a high interestrate, sometimes as astronomical as 240 per cent. Through conversations with socialworkers and the slum-dwellers, I found that people typically borrow money to servicegambling debts or a drug habit. Others also borrow money so that they can buyconsumer products like 36-inch TV sets. 11
  • Education The education of slum-dwellers has improved over time (Figure 6). Becauseof compulsory education, at first for only six years and now ten years, the number ofthose who completed only primary school has decreased from three-quarters of thepopulation to half. This trend is also in line with what is happening in Bangkok. In1992, the number of years of education a man aged 15 years old is 8.1. In 2000, itwent up to 9.9 years (NESDB 2000:27). In the past, few slum-dwellers received a degree. The number has increasedover time. Sadly, there are still more uneducated women than men. Although womenlag behind the men at every level, they are on par with men at the tertiary level. Thisshows that women have the ability to get a degree if they are given the opportunity.This also suggests that it is not because of a lack of ability that women are tailing themen but family members might have pressured women to quit school earlier to lookafter the family or get a job to support them. Figure 6: Education of Slum Dwellers 100% 80% 60% Undergraduate 40% Secondary school Prim ary school 20% No education 0% 1960 1971 1981 1985 1994 1994 (male) (female) Sources: 1960: Khlong Toei slum (Pasookniran 1960:32). 1971: Khlong Toei slum (Faculty of Social Administration 1971:74-75). 1981: 47 slums (Archawanitkul et al 1981:59). 1985: 3,594 households (Sopon 2003:20). 1994: National Statistical Office. 12
  • Myth 1: “They all migrated from the Northeast” It is commonly believed that rural-urban migration is the culprit of urbangrowth which leads to the unsightly slums in Bangkok. This was a major factor in thepast and continued until the mid 1970s. However, the situation has now changed. Ithas been found that there is a greater volume of rural-rural movement than themovement from rural areas to urban centres (Visid 1972:22). Many have moved tobig sugarcane and rubber plantations in the west, east and south. Encroached forestland for agriculture uses also absorbs millions of rural people (Angel 1985:9).Currently, simple natural growth (under conscious birth control) is the main factor forslum growth in Bangkok instead of migration. The natural growth rate has generallyexceeded the migration rate. For example, in 2002, the natural increase was 2.11 percent while the net migration rate was -0.3 per cent (NSO, 2002). A 1985 survey of 3,594 slum households found that the most of the slum-dwellers, or 65.3 per cent, were born in Bangkok (Figure 7). Although the householdheads were in-migrants, their spouses, children, or grandchildren would have beenborn in Bangkok. It can be seen that about half the house-renters in the slums are in-migrants. This makes sense as renting a house or a room will be the most affordableoption for them. As for the in-migrants, most of them come from the central regionand not, as always assumed, from the poorer Northeast (Sopon 1992:80).Unfortunately, a common misunderstanding persists that the major cause of urbanpopulation growth is migration from rural areas. This has led to a belief thatBangkok’s development should be minimal in order to discourage this influx of ruralmigrants. Many policies targeted rural development so that rural dwellers will stayput. However, as we have already observed, natural growth is the current main cause 13
  • of population increase and that Bangkok’s supposed strong attraction is now not themajor consideration. Figure 7: Comparing Bangkok as birth place between heads of households and all household members Land rent 48 71.8 House rent 24.8 49.2 50 Tenure Stay free 72.1 Head of household Own land 51.2 69.6 All household m em bers Squatter 39.2 70.5 Average 41.4 65.3 0 25 50 75 100 PercentageSource: National Housing Authority Survey, 1985Myth 2: “They are all good-for-nothing, a burden to Bangkok.” City folk tend to look upon slums, at best, as a relic of village life and thedwellers as peasants in the city or at worst, an eyesore that needs to be removed. Korffstrongly argues against this attitude, “Although the emergence of slums is traced inrural problems, slums do have an economic significance for the city. Slums supply thecity with cheap labour power.” (1985:66) Most slum dwellers have a full-time jobalthough most of them are unskilled and work in the informal sector, for examplebeing a food vendor or riding a motorcycle taxi. Even in the formal sector, they arealso likely to take on jobs that other people scorn, such as being rubbish collectors, anoccupation which will be labelled as “others” in Table 4. In the past, more than three-quarters of the slum-dwellers were blue-collar workers such as transport andproduction workers. The proportion has decreased to about half by 1994. At thesame time, the proportion of white collars on a higher level, such as those inprofessional and managerial positions, has increased to about 10 per cent. This is in 14
  • tandem with the increase in education levels among slum dwellers. As they achievehigher levels of education, more job opportunities are then open to them.Interestingly, the proportion of women holding white-collar jobs almost double that ofthe men in 1994. This is probably because there are more sales positions open towomen than to men. Table 4: Occupations of Slum Dwellers and other BangkokiansOccupations Bangkok Slums (1990) 1971 1985 1994 Male Female1. Professional, technical and related workers 13.9% 1.5% 6.5% 5.9% 8.3%2. Administrative, managerial, government officer 6.3% 1.5% 0.7% 4.8% 2.1%3. Clerical workers 11.4% 3.0% 11.9% 10.6% 16.4%4. Sale workers 19.5% 18.5% 20.0% 14.6% 33.3%5. Agricultural workers 2.6% 0.5% 0.2% 0.4% 0.4%6. Miners, quarrymen, well drillers 0.1% -- -- -- --7. Transport and related workers 6.1% 13.5% 7.2% 19.7% 0.9%8. Craftsmen and production workers 29.0% 22.5% 23.1% 36.3% 24.0%9. Service workers 10.1% 10.0% 4.3% 7.7% 14.6%10. Others 1.0% 29.0% 26.1% -- --Groups of occupationsWhite collar (Group 1-4) 51.1% 24.5% 39.1% 35.9% 60.1%White Collar Higher (Group 1-2) 20.2% 3.0% 7.2% 10.7% 10.4%Blue Collar (Group 5-10) 48.9% 75.5% 60.9% 64.1% 39.9%Source: 1990: Bangkok (National Statistical Office 1991:23) 1971: Khlong Toei (Faculty of Social Administration 1971:74-75) 1985: 3,594 households (Sopon 2003:21) 1994: Bangkok slums (National Statistical Office)Myth 3: “They are all dreadfully poor.” It is a gross misconception that all slum-dwellers are either living on or underthe poverty line. There are some who are quite wealthy but have chosen to remainstaying in the slum because they have developed a symbiotic relationship with theother slum-dwellers. For example, they may be landlords or money-lenders. There isalso another group of slum-dwellers who can afford to move out of the slum and buya house. Yet they stay on in the slum probably because it is in a central location andnear to their workplaces. Over time, the economic situation of slum-dwellers shows 15
  • an upward trend of improving (Table 5). The first income decile of their monthly percapita income decreased from 58.6% in 1960 to 48.5% in 1971 and then to 17.3% in1985. At the same time, almost half of Thailand’s population (probably the ruraldwellers) are in that income decile. While it seems that the slum dwellers in Bangkokare richer than their rural compatriots, the costs of living are different. Table 5: Selected monthly per capita income at 1993 pricesIncome Decile (Baht/person/month) Slums Thailand Bangkok 1960 1971 1985 1990 19901 Less than 1,130 58.6% 48.5% 17.3% 49.6% 10.0%2 1,130 - 1,529 10.2% 17.1% 27.9% 13.8% 10.0%3 1,530 - 1,979 10.3% 12.8% 19.5% 8.4% 10.0%4 1,980 - 2,379 9.0% 6.0% 12.0% 5.6% 10.0%5 2,380 - 2,899 3.1% 5.5% 10.1% 5.5% 10.0%6 2,900 - 3,439 3.1% 2.8% 5.0% 4.1% 10.0%7 3,440 - 4,089 1.4% 2.5% 3.4% 3.5% 10.0%8 4,090 - 5,189 1.8% 3.0% 2.5% 3.4% 10.0%9 5,190 - 7,319 1.5% 1.1% 1.9% 3.3% 10.0%10 7,320 and over 1.0% 0.8% 0.3% 2.9% 10.0%1960: 1,500 households opposite the Department of Highways1971: Khlong Toei1985: 3,594 householdsBangkok and Thailand data adjusted from the 1990 CensusSource: Agency for Real Estate Affairs (1993) In 1993, regardless of any other costs, a person who cannot afford three mealsa day at 12 baht per meal must be considered as the “real poor”. This means ahousehold with a monthly per capita income below 1,080 baht is what I call “verypoor”. Less than a fifth of slum-dwellers are considered to be in this category (Table5). They typically stay for free in the slum and depend on the goodwill of therelatives they are staying with. In Bangkok, less than 10 per cent of the totalpopulation belongs to this group. Next, a household with two people earning the 1993minimum wage of 125 baht per day, and with two dependants, is what I assume to be“poor”. Their monthly per capita income is 1,562.50 baht. Almost half the slum-dwellers, compared to 20 per cent of the Bangkok population, are considered poor. It 16
  • should be noted that the “very poor” and the “poor” can never afford a house in thetypical housing market. For them, there are very few alternative housing arrangements,apart from slums. To define the “not so poor”, I will use the cheapest housing unit, say, a low-cost condominium unit located in a fringe economic sub-centre of Bangkok, worthapproximately 250,000 baht, as a gauge. A downpayment of 20 per cent is usuallyrequired. Monthly instalments for the remaining 80 per cent (200,000 baht) are paidgenerally paid back over a period of 15 years at the prevailing annual interest ratewhich was 11.5 per cent in 1993. Hence, the monthly instalment for the cheapesthome would be 2,382 baht. Since 25 per cent of a household’s income should be usedfor housing, a monthly per capita income of 2,382 baht is needed in a four-personhousehold. In this case, more than three-quarters of the slum-dwellers, whoseincomes are lower than this, will not be able to afford to buy a house. Assuming thatthe one-quarter of the slum-dwellers who can pay the instalments can also afford thedownpayment, the slum population would automatically decrease by 25 per cent ifthey can be persuaded to buy a house outside the slums. The loophole in this fairytaleapproach is that even if these richer people move out of the slums, it does not stopother poorer people from moving into the slums. In fact, these richer people couldthen rent out their slum houses to them. It seems that the only people who are movingout of the slums are those from the tenth decile, with a monthly per capita incomeexceeding 7,320 baht (Table 5). Despite the varying income levels, it is common to find televisions and radiosets in every slum household, from the poorest to the richest (Table 6). Mobile phones 17
  • and DVD players are also becoming the norm3. Although many of these assets havebeen bought using borrowed money, they still go to show that only a minority of thedwellers in Bangkok slums are truly poor. Table 6: Assets of Slum Dwellers Assets Households with assets (%) No. available * Television 100% 1.6 Refrigerator 96% 1.3 CD set 65% 1.1 Washing machine 65% 1 Cell phone 65% 1.5 Home telephone 54% 1 VDO set 46% 1 Motorcycle 42% 1.1 Automobile 27% 1 Air-conditioned 15% 1.5 Hot water heater 15% 1.3 Microwave oven 12% 1 * per household (counting only households who have assets of each item) This survey covers 120 households in the Chong Nonsi community. Source: Sopon (2003:22)Slums: Government PoliciesIn this section, I will sketch out the policies regarding slums before critiquing them.Macro policies The first two National Economic and Social Development plans (1961 to 1971)focussed mainly on industrialisation and spurring the economy forward. Then, thethird and fourth plans (1972 to 1981) did not only emphasise economic growth butalso stressed the importance of reducing income disparity by speeding updevelopment in rural areas. In the fifth plan (1981 to 1986), one of the objectives wasto reduce absolute poverty and accelerate rural development in backward areas. Theidea was to create jobs to increase farmers’ income and prevent migration during thedry season because the government blames rural-urban migration for the burgeoninggrowth in the cities. The first mention of slums popped up only in the sixth plan3 I remembered walking in Suan Phlu slum three years back and being surprised by all the consumerproducts in the shacks. The TV sets were much bigger than the one I had at home and there were hugehi-fi sets too. 18
  • (1987 to 1991), where one of the main aims was to “improve the quality of life oflow-income earners that live in urban congested areas”. However, it was only untilthe seventh plan (1992 to 1996) that the government acknowledged that “the problemsof urban and urban slums have become serious”. Guidelines were drawn up toupgrade slum communities such as specific legislation to look after them and protecttheir rights. It pledged to upgrade the quality of existing slum communities, andprovide new housing for those who have been forced to relocate. It also pledged toestablish community organisations to look after the well-being of slum dwellers andset up a fund for them to borrow, as well as promote occupational development.Subsequently, in the eighth plan (1997 to 2001), the only mention of the urban poorwas about increasing poor children’s access to basic education by providingscholarships. Finally, in the ninth plan (2002 to 2006), the slum issue was subsumedunder the greater goal of poverty eradication. In addition, a tag line that keptappearing was the objective of establishing “livable communities and cities” byimproving the quality of life. It is debatable as to what constitutes “livable” but theplan later alludes to it as being “tranquil, convenient, clean and orderly”.Housing policiesHousing production policy (1948 - 1958): After World War II, social welfare policywas first introduced into Thailand. The Government Housing Bank was establishedin 1953 to construct housing for the urban population. During this period, 3,462housing units were built (Litchfield 1960:84-85).City Beautification (1960 - 1971): Slums were considered an eyesore so the only realpolicy on slum improvement was slum clearance. Some public housing units werebuilt for the slum-dwellers but did not meet the demand of the public. 19
  • Slum improvement (1970s): The National Housing Authority was established in 1973to deal with the housing problem. It constructed highly-subsidised flats which provedto be too great a financial burden and this attempt was given up soon after.Land for housing the poor (1980s): The logic is if land is given to the poor, theywould have a sense of belonging and develop their own homes and community.Hence, there have been a few land-sharing and slum relocation projects. Theprinciple of land-sharing requires that part of the area of the slum be cleared for thedevelopment of commercial properties while slum-dwellers are re-housed on theremaining part of the site.Recognition policy (1990s): Slums have become more recognised through the effortsof the non-governmental organisations. And the policies made in this period were intandem with the seventh national plan which placed special emphasis on slums. In1992, the Urban Community Development Office was established with an initial fundof 1.25 billion baht to help support the development of saving groups and generateloans for slum-dwellers. In 2001, a one-million-baht fund was established in ruraland urban communities to do the same thing.Policy assessmentMeeting the housing shortage from 1960 When the government first started building flats, it targeted the housing unitsat the poor, instead of the middle and higher-income groups. As a result, walk-upapartments seemed “less privileged” because they were known as places where low-income groups lived. The flats were too “low-class” for the middle-income but werebeyond the reach of the poor. So the housing shortage continued. But if flats had 20
  • started out with a good image and vertical living took off, then revolving funds couldhave been generated and used to provide subsidised housing for the poor.Vertical living Former governor of the National Housing Authority Rataya Chantien admittedthat the NHA’s policy to construct the highly-subsidised rental and owned flats was afailure. Not only were the flats a major financial burden but they were also often notoccupied by those they were built for. Because the rents are low and the estates arewell-located in areas like Din Daeng, Bon Kai and Khlong Toei, the originaloccupants can earn useful income either by sub-letting the apartment or by sellingtheir right to another household while they moved back to the slum. Hence, althoughthe policy tried to alleviate the housing shortage, it only created more slums. Slum-dwellers are often reluctant to move into walk-up apartments because ofthe regular payment of rent and utilities, the small size of the units, the lack of socialcontact and the impossibility of generating income from the dwelling4. Yet there arethose who appreciate the privacy, cleanliness and drug-free environment that the flatsoffer (Bangkok Post, 1990). In fact, the tussle between house and flat has causeddeep rifts in the former Suan Phlu slum community. One faction is happy to acceptthe government’s offer of building walk-up flats while the other faction is insisting onhaving houses. The former is staying on a football field (Figure 8) while the latter hasmoved back to the original site to block any attempts to build flats (Figure 9).Slum relocation and land-sharing This is like a “dirty word” for slum activists because relocation efforts in thepast were badly managed. People were given little notice to move and were not given4 The unit is too small to further divide it up for subletting. Many women in the slum also earn anincome by selling food outside their house. This would be impossible in an apartment. 21
  • time to familiarise themselves with their new environment before moving. Somepeople lost their jobs after moving out of the slums. For example, the men working ascoolies at Khlong Toei port for 55 baht per day could not afford the 20 baht per day togo from Rom Klao, their new home, to their workplace and back. (Charoon 1988)Yet, slum relocation does not have to be a zero sum game, especially if the newapartments are located along major transport routes. If most non-slum dwellers alsocannot afford to live in the city but have to wake up at 4am to commute into the centreto work and only arrive back home at 8pm, why should those living in slums beanymore privileged? Besides, it would be easier for slum-dwellers to change jobs ashalf of them are blue-collar workers. So they can get another job in a factory or be afood-vendor at the new estate. Figure 8 Figure 9 When a slum faces eviction and there is an option for land-sharing, only a verylimited number of households would seize the opportunity to acquire land. A largemajority will take the compensation and leave, most probably to settle in another slum.Some make their claim to the plot of the land but never occupy it; others even build ahouse but rent it out to other households. Besides, it will be difficult to findcommercial properties that are willing to share the land with a slum community. 22
  • Slums: Future In several Asian countries, governments are now providing protection of sortsto slum residents. Policies range from granting de jure security of tenure byregularising the unauthorised settlements to giving a form of de facto security oftenure by issuing stay orders at the time of evictions. Research has shown that anincrease in security of tenure is incentive for the dwellers to improve their housingconditions. In Bangkok, something similar is being proposed. The National HousingAuthority wants to be able to improve land-rental slums regardless of the views of theland-owner while slum dweller federations want the government to expropriate allslum land and to sell it to the slum dwellers at subsidised rates. But such policies toprotect the slum residents are likely to backfire here because land-owners would notwant to rent out vacant land to slum-dwellers and might even evict the slum beforesuch a policy takes effect. The implication is that improvements in the livingconditions in the slums can be initiated only be land-owners. If the landlord is prepared to sign a medium-term (five- to ten-year) lease withthe slum-dwellers, the situation in the slum can improve considerably. Such contractswould increase security of tenure and if both parties agree, the land can be reblockedto improve the layout of the settlement and facilitate the provision of infrastructure.But if the slum-dwellers and land owner can agree on a long-term lease, the slums caneven be demolished to make way for new houses. A contractor can build rows ofshell houses with only side walls, roof, sanitary unit, while the occupants have tocomplete, extend and improve the slum. The houses could then be rented out to theoriginal slum dwellers. Since the value of the house will be low compared to the 23
  • value of the land, the amortised cost of the shell house can be included in a slightlyincreased land rent. Today, the slum situation is no longer looked upon as just a housing problem,instead it is seen as a symptom of the deeper problem of urban poverty, where groupsof people have been left out in Thailand’s economic growth. This direction, I believe,is the correct one to take. In 2000, when the work of the Urban CommunityDevelopment Organisation was integrated into a new public organisation calledCommunity Organisations Development Institute, 950 community savings groups hadbeen established and supported in 53 provinces. More than 1 billion baht had beenprovided in loans and more than half the loans had already been fully repaid.Informal estimates suggest that assets of some 2 billion baht had been generated bythe projects (Somsook 2003:2). At the same time, the education among slum-dwellershas also improved. This leads to more job opportunities, instead of being confined toblue-collar work. Already, one can see that the occupations of the slum-dwellers arecoming on par with their fellow Bangkokians (Table 4). With better education andbetter jobs, the next generation would likely not be willing to stay in the slumanymore. In 1958, slums comprised 46 per cent of the housing stock. In 2000, itbecame only 6 per cent of the total housing available. Hopefully in another 10 to 20years, people will not have to live in slums anymore and there will no longer beanymore eyesores in the City of Angels. 24
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