Livable and Pleasant Low-Cost Housing

When one mentions “low-cost housing” for the lower-income community, visions of concrete tower blocks with apartments little more than cubicles comes to mind. The stink of garbage chutes, florescent lighting that’s broken and blown in places, smelly dimly lit lifts frequently out of order, walls decorated with graffiti, and all that’s dark, dreary, wet and repulsive. Being poor doesn’t mean that one has to be treated sub-humanly and allotted the cheapest, lowest quality standard of living in vermin infested, crime fertile environments. 

If governments really paid any attention to the causes and effects of poverty, they may discover that treating poor people as human beings and affording them a better living environment could help change their perception of themselves and help reduce numbers taking to crime as day jobs in urban areas. The poverty scenario is a little different, but just as bad for the rural poor.

There is an abundance of alternative cheap housing that doesn’t have to be like what’s described above. 

Take for example, the little plank, zinc roofed one storied house that vegetable farmers used to build in the centre of their small farms. There were also plank house villages (kampungs) which were not squatter areas but villages supplied with electricity and piped water. These “kampung” houses were proper houses with kitchen, bathroom/toilets, living-rooms and 2 -3 adequately large bedrooms for families to live in. 

Recently, I saw a newly built double storied plank house with louvered windows and beautiful brown stained or painted wooden walls. 
With the right technology for safety, such as flame retardant and anti-pest and fungus treatment, sound workmanship and substitution of materials like tile/slate or treated attap roofing, in place of tin or zinc which increase temperatures under the hot sun, these would be really wonderful dwellings that cost only a fraction of what is spent on heaving and piling concrete into unsightly, hot, dark and dank, anonymous tower blocks.

The traditional Malay ‘kampung’ house is another possible model for low-cost housing. These houses were meant to house extended families, as is the traditional and customary way of living in many Asian societies. They have shared kitchen and bathroom/toilet facilities, which can be updated into modern kitchens and bathrooms. Adjustments and variations can be made to provide more private facilities, if the traditional design was modified to accommodate it.

Even the traditional Chinese town house with its labyrinth of inner courtyards and separate areas for various household activity is another alternative for housing a large number of people. 

In all of the three models suggested, a garden in which to relax and where children can play safely is part and parcel of the whole design, much like the swimming pool areas in luxury apartment blocks. 

I saw amazing houses in an “Orang Asli” (Aboriginal) village. The houses had bamboo frames with woven fiber walls. As far as I could see, there were not many rooms in it and cooking was done outdoors or in a separate area. They had outside toilets which were kept very clean. What really impressed was the flooring of these house verandahs, made of bamboo strips tied side by side with gaps in between for air-circulation. It was cool to sit on. These houses could also be moved en masse to a different site i.e. dismantled and reconstructed in another location. 
There are also the Dayak long houses in Sarawak and native houses of Sabah designed for extended families and are in sync with the forest environment, just like the Orang Asli Houses.

Although not all of us can adopt the aboriginal lifestyle, we could learn and adapt the flexibility and eco-friendliness of it. There is still a long way to go before we can relinquish our craving for bricks, mortar and concrete boxes in tower blocks which we expect to call “Home”. There is a more human way to live, in harmony with nature and with our neighbors.

If I were an architect/developer, I would be looking to adapting the best in traditional housing to modern living that is sustainable, eco-friendly and humane, things that make places not only habitable but what would make up a pleasant and livable Home. Not only for the rich, but especially for the poor.

Author: jasminetea2

A free lance writer interested in people and ways of living. An adventurer in reality and explorer of fiction. A solitary animal by nature.

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