The search for livable kampungs

Editorial Board | The Jakarta Post | Jakarta

Jakarta, posted: Sat, September 8, 2018 | 10:25 am

When the Jakarta administration tried to improve the city a few years ago, it chose to bulldoze dozens of kampungs that had become the living quarters of thousands of residents.(JP/P.J.LEO)

When the Jakarta administration tried to improve the city a few years ago, it chose to bulldoze dozens of kampungs that had become the living quarters of thousands of residents.

All of the kampungs had existed for decades near river banks, or on abandoned land, relics of a much simpler life in the capital. With little money, residents could still afford to make a life on these empty plots, while earning money from the streets, not too far from their homes. 

These days housing is barely available, even for those in the middle class. Only 51 percent of the city’s 10 million residents are home owners, while millions have moved from their hometowns and rent a room to work in Jakarta.

Unfortunately, living in the kampungs on the river banks means waterways are blocked, causing annual flooding of their own houses as well as nearby areas, leading to the necessity for evictions. 

Backed by police and military personnel, the administration, led by former governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama, demolished many of these areas despite pleas for better communication with the affected residents. By offering low-cost apartments (rusunawa) that they could rent, the administration said the trade was fair. 

But in a city where high-rise living has little legal protection and is not as popular as living in houses, many of the evicted felt they were offered a lifetime of rent subject to their landlords’ whims. Many feared losing their livelihood and then being kicked out for failing to pay the rent. 

When Governor Anies Baswedan took over, he vowed to restore justice for the evicted residents and rebuild their kampungs. He issued a decree that started revitalization programs in at least 21 kampungs, including those evicted during Ahok’s era. In several kampungs such as in Penjaringan in North Jakarta and Kampung Kunir in Taman Sari, West Jakarta, people have begun resuming their previous lives. In Kampung Kunir and Kampung Akuarium, shelters have been built for those evicted. Others in Pejaringan have gained administrative recognition after decades of being considered legally non-existent.

Kampung Kunir and Kampung Akuarium residents are still waiting for the administration to build permanent residences. For those evicted from Bukit Duri in Tebet, South Jakarta, things are a little more complicated. The land where hundreds of residents used to live has gone following the restoration of the Ciliwung River. 

Despite winning a class action lawsuit against the administration in July, in which the government was found guilty of carrying out evictions without discussing compensation, residents remain homeless. The administration has failed to acquire a site where they can build new homes.

Public housing in large cities is rarely ideal, depending as it does on the government spending taxpayers’ money on low-income residents. What Ahok did might be wrong, but coming up with a better idea than the rusunawawould be quite a breakthrough for Anies, if he succeeds. No matter how good the intention of the city administration, land scarcity and urban poverty remain unresolved issues.

Let’s just hope that Anies will not give up easily on the kampungs.

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kampung-improvement kampung urban-kampung housing rusunawa eviction