Exclusive: Sultan Ibrahim's vision to ensure good quality homes for all Johoreans

Ahmad Fairuz Othman

Sultan Ibrahim Sultan Iskandar talks about his vision to develop dream homes for the people of Johor

Question: How critical is the issue of affordable housing in Johor, especially in Johor Baru?

Answer: How critical? I say it is very critical. If possible, we want to have a balance (in opportunities to own homes) between all the races living in the city.

This is so that there will be racial balance, so that it will not be said later on that Johor Baru is only for the Chinese. We are bringing (this concept) back. In fact, at the upcoming Coronation Square, we will provide affordable homes in the city.

Q: It is understood that in conjunction with your birthday celebration, you will be making an important announcement on a Johor housing scheme for the people. Can you elaborate?

A: I will not call it an affordable housing scheme. I am calling it “Rumah Impian Sultan Ibrahim” (Sultan Ibrahim Dream House), where it can be purchased by Johoreans.

I can neither reveal the price nor the design until the unveiling of the housing project during its soft launch at Kota Raya in Johor Baru tomorrow. I want all my subjects to be able to purchase the homes that I have envisioned under the Sultan Ibrahim Foundation.

The project will involve building houses priced under RM100,000, the way I want it to be.

It will have features and “surprise” elements that I think my subjects would not expect. The locations are close to the city area.

There will be a stringent selection process among those who are applying to buy the homes.

But, there is a criterion that should be met first. For example, couples with children and singles without any inheritance may qualify for it.

However, if any candidates have a parent who owns a house, he or she is not eligible to purchase them as they will inherit their parent’s house.

The one who cannot afford to buy a house, those who do not own a house and those from the low-income group are qualified to purchase the units.

Q: In the first phase of the housing project, how many units are you proposing to develop?

A: In the first phase, I intend to develop 600 units, including landed bungalows and semi-detached homes in three sites located within 20 minutes’ drive from the city centre.

Where can you find bungalows and semi-detached units that are below RM100,000? This does not include electrical wiring that looks like spider webs. None. All manholes? Clean.

Q: When you decreed this idea, why did you think that this would be something that the people need?

A: I have seen many housing estates, all sorts with different names. When I see these homes, I see different designs and shapes that are built without any approval from the authorities.

These houses were built in the past in congested estates with insufficient parking lots.

So, I want a place with enough parking spaces, where each home would have one lot to park their vehicle and a site for owners to leave their cars at a fee of between RM3 and RM5 per month to have them guarded.

They (potential residents) should not be stingy. If they can pay for their satellite television service, I am sure they can afford RM3.

Q: In your opinion, could the housing project be a solution to the critical issue?

A: If this Sultan Ibrahim Dream House project becomes a reality across the country, and if I get the federal (government’s) support to build houses for the people nationwide, I will do it without taking a single sen of profit. Let the people have homes.

Q: How would you ensure a balance in the composition of those who are given the opportunity to own these homes?

A: Of course, I want people of all races to get the homes and not just Malays. It’s for Bangsa Johor who qualify.

Q: Where did you source the funds for the project?

A: I have funds. I have about RM500 million of financing from Bank Rakyat. And for this project, I would use about RM100 million from that amount.

Once I have used up RM100 million, I hope Bank Rakyat can provide RM500 million more, with a low interest rate.

We would also be considerate on the financing structure for the owners and adjust it according to how much they earn. Those who earn more will probably have to pay more so that they could settle their loans faster.

Q: According to your plans, would these houses be built in an urban, suburban or rural area?

A: It will not be too far from town, maybe 10 to 20 minutes when there is no traffic jam. This will be a surprise because I will be making a soft launch tomorrow and I ask the people to come and see for themselves.

Q: Apart from houses that are below RM100,000, what are the differences between the houses in this project and other affordable homes?

A: The floor area will be about 1,100 sq ft for each home. (It will have) three rooms and one servants’ quarters.

I will make sure these houses are of good quality. The roofing trusses would not be made of wood, but instead, we will use galvanised steel.

The doors would not be made of cheap plywood, and it must be made of more durable material. I do not want to build low-quality homes because that would be embarrassing. I want the people to be satisfied with the quality of the homes.

Q: Many are probably wondering whether the quality matches the price.

A: God willing, I will bear the losses if there are any.

Q: When is the project targeted for completion?

A: After the soft launch, I will have the groundbreaking within a month or two, followed by the development, which will not take long to complete. I (will) visit this place regularly.

So, it is in accordance with my requirement. I don’t like to see houses with fencing. If it is a fenced-up house, that means our neighbour is not a good person.

I want a house that does not have any fencing, if possible. We can mingle with neighbours, and chat in the evenings. Not like he is just the guy next door, or the guy living next to my house. There must be unity. That’s why I do not want fences. We must uphold silaturrahim, and be kind to one another.

Q: Do you think that the quality of neighbourliness is declining in our community?

A: I feel that it is, but not in Johor. Johoreans are proud of the Bangsa Johor identity.

I do not only visit Malay villages, I also visit Chinese and Indian villages. And, every time I hear them call out the slogan, I think the effects of Bangsa Johor have been instilled in them.

Q: What is the size of this housing area?

A: The first project will be approximately 60 acres. There is the land cost, not only the house. I will build shoplots to pay for the road infrastructure. The shoplots will give some profits.

That will subsidise the existing houses. But if there are losses, that means I will have to bear the losses.

Q: You are willing to give priority to the people and bear the losses yourself?

A: I do not believe I will incur any losses, but if I do, I will bear the losses for the sake of the people.

Q: What is causing all these housing-related issues? Is the current system unsuccessful?

A: I feel that houses are overpriced. If you compare the price of land with what it was 40 years ago, there will be vast differences.

In the past, the price of land in Taman Pelangi, Johor Baru, for instance, was less than 20 sen per sq ft.

Now, land in Taman Pelangi costs RM100 per sq ft.

That is the difference between then and now. So, perhaps this is why many cannot afford a house.

That is why the government is building affordable houses. Even so, I feel the price of the affordable house is still too high for some people.

They cannot afford to buy them, and instead can only afford to look at them.

Let me complete my project first, and we will see how it goes.

If the government wants to, say, follow the concept of the Sultan of Johor, I will, with all sincerity, build another project.

But the land premium must not be too high as I will bear all the costs, including the land cost.

Q: You said the dream house you are building is for all races. Is the Bumiputera quota system making it difficult for this to happen?

A: Sometimes, the Bumiputera quota cannot be applied.

The Bumiputera quota is for the Malays and Bumiputeras. If this quota is imposed for all affordable housing projects, Johor will not have high-end houses.

For example, in Johor Baru, if there were to be hotels and condominiums with five-star or seven-star ratings, and there is a Bumiputera quota imposed on them, developers will not be able to sell the properties.

Before developers build, they would have thought about who they would be selling to.

For me, I do not care who wants to buy it. I know many do not agree with what I am saying, but if you were to build a mixed high-end housing project with an affordable housing project, even the cheaper houses become unaffordable.

You need to have balanced development. For example, if there is an iconic building in Johor Baru, do you think the Bumiputeras can afford it? No. How can they (afford it)? They cannot even afford to enter a seven-star hotel.

When Johor made a name for itself in other countries, many wanted to come here. They wanted to see Johor. They will stay in luxury hotels and condominiums, but there must be some leeway in the Bumiputera requirement.

It is a 40 per cent quota. Developers may be able to sell 60 (per cent) of the project, but the remaining 40 per cent cannot be sold until an appeal is made to the government.

It’s better for the government to build mixed developments for the Bumiputeras and set up a separate international zone.

Zoning is important, so the Bumiputeras can reside where they can afford to reside. It’s not that we want them to live in one place. No. Some places need zoning, while other places are not affected.

However, the land we have is freehold, not leasehold. In Johor, if the land is not freehold, we only need to pay a land premium to convert it to freehold.

It can be done as long as the premium is paid. An example is Forest City, where the government received about RM200 million to convert its status.

Now, it is freehold, but it was not before the developer paid the premium. It is not only for the Chinese nationals, but the concept is to go global because Johor is well-known in the world now and people will come here to look at and live in Johor.

Kuala Lumpur holds the top spot for the highest number of foreigners staying there, while Johor Baru is in the third spot for the most livable city in the region.

I want Johor Baru to be No. 1, with even more foreigners than Kuala Lumpur. It can be done, but we must work together to develop Johor. However, this cannot be done when there is political interference, when the opposition says we cannot do this and that.

We cannot be regressing, but must instead move towards progressing. We need to come to an agreement in order for us to achieve our goal.