Poor planning of land leads to housing problems

Ten or fifteen years ago not many people would have liked to talk about having their home in an apartment building.

HCMC land fund is not lacking, but due to inadequate urban spatial planning, the real estate market is both redundant and insufficient. Photo: LONG THANH

HCMC land fund is not lacking, but due to inadequate urban spatial planning, the real estate market is both redundant and insufficient. Photo: LONG THANH

However, now apartments have gained more and more in popularity and the owners feel proud of living in high-class apartments constructed by well-known companies.

Apartments more popular

Residential apartments are popular with both young and old people alike. Young people see living in an apartment as a modern way of life, while the elderly feel safe because they can travel away from home for several days without worry about security or a fire. Over the past few years, sales of apartments have been better than those of private houses, and apartments in some areas sell out very quickly.

Before 2010, a decent place was still a bit of a dream, but people have recently started to look for a complex with a natural landscape, green plants, serviced utilities, security and a friendly community, and apartments made by well-known famous companies can easily meet these requirements.

Phu My Hung Urban Area set a perfect example of this kind of convenient housing plan in Vietnam in the 1990s when land for residential purposes was still being badly managed. Reality proved that people are more interested in apartments with a good network of infrastructure and public facilities such as a supermarket, a gym, a swimming pool and a park.

It can be concluded that only apartment buildings can meet the growing demands of millions of people every year. Better technology and materials have made it possible for this kind of housing to be built in a shorter time and in smaller plots of land.

It is therefore advisable to re-plan areas to provide more land for the real property market, including apartment buildings. The market for real property, including housing, would be impossible without land; and it would be irrational to say that Ho Chi Minh City does not have sufficient land for housing because the city covers an area of 2,100 sq. km.

Yet the actual planning has so far put the city in a situation of excessive land in some areas and insufficient land in others. Those who have been observing the real property market closely over the years can clearly see this situation, and the prices of houses and land have been fluctuating due to poor planning.

Ineffective spread from the center

Urban development in the country's two biggest cities, Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, has been spreading from the center downtown areas towards suburban areas quite rapidly.

During the period 1990 to 2010, most of the apartment buildings and office towers were tightly compressed in and around the center of the cities. The clusters of apartment buildings with basic utilities in Districts 4, 5 and 10 were built to relocate dwellers along the canals or slums which needed to be pulled down to make space for new apartment buildings with basic facilities.

Investors built single apartment buildings on small plots which were not being used or had been used as warehouses, or by tearing down dilapidated buildings. But these buildings are mainly built as shelters since they hardly have public facilities.

Later, favorable areas, dubbed "golden", "silver" or even "bronze" were used for building housing blocks with investors soon moving even farther away from the city center.

Since 2010, land in Districts 4, 10, 11, Phu Nhuan and Binh Thanh has been exploited for construction of apartment buildings. In 2018, the land fund in those districts began to run out, and the investors moved to District 2, Go Vap and Thu Duc, although hesitantly because they were too far away from technical infrastructure and good public facilities.

To the northeast of the city, big projects still only remain in District 2, along Hanoi Highway and have moved to Thanh My Loi Area. To the West and northwest, the investors keep their projects within Go Vap District while the projects to the South of the city are here and there in District 7. The investors have yet to become interested in Binh Chanh District because big projects in this district are not as profitable as investments in smaller houses.

If the situation is not improved, there will be a serious lack of land for big scale housing development schemes by 2022.

City development now congested

The development of Ho Chi Minh City now is much like compressing everything within four former urban districts, with high-quality apartment buildings constructed on former residential areas. This was carried out very well in China when they redeveloped Beijing, Shanghai, Vuhan and Guangzhou.

It would be great to make Beijing a good example when it comes to transforming large urban traditional residential areas into modern residential ones. Only a few features typical of certain periods can be kept unchanged while other areas should be cleared for mainly construction of modern apartment buildings.

The problem of excessive products in some areas and insufficient products in others, or fluctuation in price of houses is mainly caused by ineffective planning of living spaces. There will be a serious lack of land for big scale housing development schemes by 2022 if the situation is not improved.
When it comes to development of new urban districts and suburban districts, it should be noted that construction of single buildings should not be allowed. It would be ideal to establish a complete living area. Therefore, it would be unwise to allow many investors to join in a small area. It would be wiser to have masterplans for complex projects with sufficient public facilities. Only then can we hope to attract people from the city center and prevent people from outside from moving to the city center.

Actually, it is now extremely hard to sell apartments in single buildings. Some people have bought them just because they did not know where to invest. They have bought such apartments, but now they lease them out rather than live there because there are not enough public facilities. Or they might as well live there, but they have to take their children to school further inside the city or they go into the city for better healthcare services. Such activities have created a phenomenon called "a longer swing of the pendulum"

It should be remembered that Ho Chi Minh City set a bad example of allowing many big investors to be involved in the development of the An Phu-An Khanh area in District 2, turning it into an ugly landscape. In contrast, Phu My Hung is in a worse location, but it has become a fantastic living environment because it has been planned and developed by just one investor and one designer (SOM).

In addition, planners should think of a variety of houses so that houses will not be all out of reach of people with low income. Ho Chi Minh City should be prepared to undergo several stages of construction of apartment buildings, like China and Singapore, going through three revolutions of apartment buildings. First, they focused on construction of inexpensive apartments in small areas to meet the shelter demands, and then they gradually upgraded the projects every 20 years.

People in Vietnam have cared more about high-quality apartments which are better suited for speculators and investors. Up to about 70% of the owners of high-quality apartments now are surfers or investors who lease out their apartments.

And last but not least, it would be great to stimulate the real property market by creating new centers in the form of "multi-centers". We should not think about construction of housing for growing number of immigrants every year. Other countries have never done it. Such a kind of land fund is nothing more than a warm welcome to immigrants.

And how to reduce immigrants, rearrange urban residents and improve the quality of the population is quite another story which involves economic, administrative, planning and legal issues.

Translated by Nguyễn Gia

Asso. Prof. Dr. Nguyen Minh Hoa, Vice Chairman of Urban Planning & Development Association, HCMC

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