Cooperative heritage maintenance in Penang
The declaration of George Town, Penang, as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2008 has brought more tourism, with high maintenance costs for property owners, rising tenancy insecurity, and poor living conditions often experienced by tenants. ACHR and Think City are fund matching to open a space for cooperative physical improvements between tenants and property owners of ancient buildings in need of renovation. With an alternative channel for vulnerable communities to access formal financial system, they can leverage more sustainable tenancy agreements and resist expulsion while contributing to maintaining their environment.
Think City (a government group set up to catalyse urban regeneration between stakeholders) allotted a sum to CDF in early 2014 under a new grant mechanism, The Sustainable Housing Program, a repayable grant for cost-sharing of physical improvements on old buildings. They felt the trigger for such cooperation between property owner and tenant could only be found in a collective realization of shared issues around UNESCO heritage buildings, so in addition to accessing grant money, Think City acted as facilitator in the growth and development of a physical improvement cost-sharing model built on concerns from the bottom-up.
Many efforts have been made to introduce the CDF to communities: education and training events, videos, workshops. Malaysia’s history of fraudulent money collectives meant communities were not willing to manage large funds through networks of local savings groups. However in the new scheme CDF was introduced under the legality of a third party, Think City, and able to finally take off.
Pilot Project no. 1: The Hock Teik Cheng Sin Temple Affordable Housing Project
This is the first pilot project between tenants and property owners under the Sustainable Housing Programme starting in 2012. The tenants were hesitant, however united by their tenancy insecurity they agreed to go along with the fund-matching mechanism. Think City, the owners and the tenants eventually agreed on 10-year tenancy with no rental increase, that the board of trustees would be responsible for the repair of the roof of the shophouses using a TC loan, and the tenants were responsible to contribute to the repair of the façade through the ACCA fund.
The initial engagement process involving needs identification is crucial for both parties to come into mutual understanding and agreement. It was an important first step in repairing an already strained relationship between the trustees of the temple and the tenants, which is not an uncommon scenario in George Town.
The repairing of the façade had many disputes, and the tenants wanted to drop out before the work began, but felt committed to honour their promise to one of the temple trustees, Mr Khoo Kay Hean, who had helped push for their long-term tenancy agreement.
The upgrading of a UNESCO heritage site is subject to complicated conservation guidelines, hampering interest and enthusiasm of tenants and owners. A technical team was formed to improve dialogue between tenants and owners, by sharing technical knowledge on technique and regulations the decision making process between property owners, tenants, and architects was made easier.
The Trustees of Hock Teik Cheng Sin Temple are now keen to introduce the temple to the public through an information centre, encouraging the tenants to share their pride in becoming part of the temple community.
OOPilot Project no.2: Façade treatment at Queen Street
In 2014 three shophouses on Queen Street, Little India, owned by the Toishan clan like many other properties in town in need of restoration, were identified for façade treatment. The community in Little India are mainly traders and shop owners, sharing resources such as water and electricity, and in most cases subletting from the main tenants. The main tenants get a low rental rate and neglect repair to the building, while subletting at a higher rate.
The façade treatment is merely a catalyst for intervention; the ultimate goal is to engage the subletters, tenants, and property owners in identifying issues together, and participate in a decision making process on how to fairly split the costs of maintenance between parties.
All parties were aware of the needs to adhere to strict conservation guidelines when in the core zone of World Heritage Site, however they were not clear about the rationale behind the requirements, particularly signage size, and installation of additional structures such as awnings, air-conditioner etc. In response the technical team was involved to facilitate the decision making process. | Hooi Seam Ng