Squatter families get a better life

National 2 minutes, 31 seconds

BELAIT

ALL but one of the squatter families from Lorong 14 in Seria have recently been relocated by the Belait District Office to government barrack housing units across the district.

Four low-income households comprising a mixture of citizens and permanent residents had their applications for housing assistance to the district office granted this year, allowing them to move out of their homes in Lorong 14, which were built decades ago on government land without permission and lacked piped water or electricity.

Typically, government barrack units are rented spaces reserved for civil servants. But the Belait District Office moved in 2012 to initiate a district-wide relocation project to house families from squatter areas and underprivileged backgrounds in vacant barrack units.

Lorong 14, located at the back of Panaga Primary School, is the smallest of the four main squatter communities in Belait. The others are Kg Jabang, Kg Api-Api and Kg Sg Baru.

According to the Belait District Office yesterday, the arrangement is temporary. Each household is given a two-bedroom unit for a two-year term which can be extended upon review. Rent is $45 per month excluding utilities.

“Since we have received over 300 applications to date, we have drawn up a list of over 30 criteria which helps us categorise and prioritise the different applicants,” said Belait District Officer Hj Haris Othman.

These include the applicant’s living conditions, nationality and social arrangements. Some 121 of the 333 applicants have already moved into barrack housing.

Relocated residents of Lorong 14 who are now enjoying piped water and electricity from their homes for the first time told The Brunei Times that they had no regrets leaving their old homes behind.

Siblings Nurhidayah and Junatan Anak Ganting, who are now accommodated at the barracks in Lorong 3, Seria, said their previous living conditions were unsafe; they had to move to their neighbour’s shanty after their house shifted due to strong winds earlier this year, and their swampy surroundings were a breeding ground for mosquitoes.

“The biggest thing is that my two kids are able to grow up in a more comfortable environment. We no longer have to collect rainwater in drums or have to rely on diesel generators just to get lights,” said Nurhidayah, who lived in Lorong 14 for 20 years.

Her husband, Mohd Azmi Ruslan, will soon apply for the family to have a house under the national housing scheme as she’s ineligible to apply herself as a permanent resident.

Couple Neelin Anak Entap and Momin Hassan, who are both permanent residents, were quick to act on the opportunity for housing assistance as their options were far and few between.

Neelin, who also lives in Lorong 3 with seven of her children and relatives, said her family first purchased the squatter home in Lorong 14 for roughly $500 back in 1997, when they moved from Labi to Seria with the promise of finding employment.

“The area was really prone to flooding, so the shanty house was on stilts. There are (also) crocodiles and snakes in the area. Overall, it was really just unsafe. But we had no other choice.”

The Brunei Times