Thursday, July 27, 2017

Death keeps spotlight on ‘dangerous’ sites

Men tidy the street beside a redevelopment of a ‘dangerous’ building site in Pabedan township last week.Men tidy the street beside a redevelopment of a ‘dangerous’ building site in Pabedan township last week.

The tragic death of a woman in Pabedan township on January 10 has highlighted the ongoing plight of developers in Yangon to rebuild the nearly 300 “dangerous” buildings identified by the Yangon City Development Committee (YCDC).

The woman died when the wall of a building under demolition collapsed on her. The incident underlines the difficulties of redeveloping the sites earmarked for demolition by the YCDC in the wake of a building collapse in March 2010 that killed a teenage girl in Pabedan township.

Several media outlets in Yangon, including The Myanmar Times, reported that by the end of September last year 265 sites had been listed as dangerous by the YCDC and tenants had been told to leave. Since then, another 27 buildings have been added to the list, the local Bi Weekly Eleven reported on December 10.

Many of the dangerous buildings are in the downtown area and share walls with adjoining buildings. Developers say they face a number of challenges when negotiating with the apartment owners.

“I think it’s important to consider demolishing both buildings when one is identified as dangerous when they share a common wall. And in some cases the whole row of buildings along the street should perhaps be rebuilt because they all connected together,” a Pazundaung township-based developer said.

He added that while the dangerous buildings are potentially lucrative investments, they are difficult to redevelop and require extensive negotiations with tenants, YCDC and, in some cases, other developers.

“We have to negotiate with tenants to pay their rents while we redevelop, how large the apartments will be and what amenities they will come with. Often we find that we also have to negotiate for the same block with other developers as well,” he said.

A developer based in Botahtaung township, who did not want to be named, said negotiating with apartment owners was a difficult and time consuming process that could put lives at risk.

“Negotiating with tenants on redevelopments can take months, which can put people in danger because these buildings have already been identified as dangerous,” he said.

“But apartment owners try to get as much money as they can and will happily start talking with other developers if they’re unhappy about what we offer,” he said.

Even when negotiations are concluded, he said some tenants stripped their soon-to-be-demolished apartments of anything of value, sometimes compromising the structure of the building in the process.

“Tenants remove the doors, flooring and sometimes even the supports, which leaves the building even more unsafe – I’ve seen a building in Latha township collapse as soon as we started tearing it down because the tenants had gutted it.”

Apartment owners, however, said developers offered pitifully low sums to cover the rent of another apartment while the redevelopment took place.

U Kyaw, 41, is a former taxi driver and the owner of an apartment in a YCDC-designated dangerous building in Pabedan township. He said the amount the developer – which he declined to name – offered to pay for him to relocate was not enough to rent a similar apartment to his own, which is on the first floor.

“There are 28 apartment owners and the developer gave each owner K2 million to help pay their rent for the redevelopment period, which should be 18 months. But there’s no way I can rent a first-floor apartment in downtown Yangon for that much. I think the rent for an apartment like that will be at least K150,000 a month, if not more.

“That’s at least K2.7 million over 18 months,” he said.

“Instead we found a fourth-floor apartment in Botahtaung township that costs K90,000 a month and we also have a betel nut business to support us,” he said.

Another resident of the same building, 45-year-old Daw Aye, agreed that the developer had offered too little for her family to relocate to a similar apartment.

“We were only paid K1 million, which is nowhere near enough for us to rent a ground-floor apartment like we had. That would cost at least K300,000 a month,” she said.

“Before, my family made money by selling cold drinks but now I run a grocery business near where we live. Unfortunately the sales are quite poor, so my brother has to work as well,” she said.

However, she thanked the developer because at least it paid the K1 million without delay.

U Kyaw said the three-storey building was about 70 years old and will be redeveloped into a 12-storey site that will house more than 60 apartments.

U Min Min Soe from Mya Pan Tha Khin real estate agency said the wave of dangerous buildings that have to be torn down and/or redeveloped since last March had had a profound impact on Yangon’s property market.

“Potential buyers are paying to get structural checks of buildings done and many are completely uninterested in old or very old buildings,” he said.

“Since March last year rents for buildings around 50 years old have dropped by 60 percent and sales by 80pc.”

The January 10 death has prompted buyers to start asking questions about the safety of nearby buildings as well, he added.

“Buyers are trying to avoid areas where there are many dangerous buildings and trying to pick buildings that do not share walls with other blocks.”