MKH managing director Tan Sri Datuk Eddy Chen presents guest lecture on affordable housing in Malaysia

On Wednesday the 9th of October, property development expert Tan Sri Datuk Eddy Chen delivered a guest lecture on affordable housing in Malaysia to AMU2140: States and Markets students. Tan Sri Datuk Chen, a Patron of the Real Estate and Housing Developers’ Association (REHDA) and the newly-appointed Chairman of Perbadanan PR1MA Malaysia among other things, led an hour-long session designed to help students bridge the gap between theory and reality by showcasing the real-life situation of housing provisions in Malaysia and how it is shaped by partnerships between the government and the private sector.

An alumnus of Monash University himself, Tan Sri Datuk Chen put his decades’ worth of experience in property development to good use in crafting his lecture, entitled “Affordable Housing Issue in Malaysia & The Way Forward”. Before launching into the lecture proper, he asked for a show of hands to gauge students’ familiarity with housing development, and delivered a brief background information session about the development process in Malaysia and the job scope of property developers.

Moving into the property development challenges currently plaguing not just Malaysia, but the world as a whole, Tan Sri Datuk Chen succinctly summed up the heart of the issue: “Income has not moved in tandem with house prices,” he said, making affordability an increasingly challenging task for both developers and buyers. Although the Malaysian government has attempted to address this issue by putting into place more regulations on the housing industry than most nations, Tan Sri Datuk Chen outlined three reasons why low-cost housing continues to present a challenge: poor location choices, changing lifestyle preferences, and the lack of last mile connectivity.

As the newly-appointed Chairman of the affordable housing initiative PR1MA, Tan Sri Datuk Chen noted that at least 34,000 low-cost PR1MA houses remain unsold and vacant today, primarily due to remote locations that would add hours to residents’ commutes on a weekly basis. In addition to this inconvenience, government regulations on low-cost housing do not reflect Malaysians’ changing lifestyles and housing preferences. While government regulations require that low-cost units be at least 900 square feet, Tan Sri Datuk Chen noted that young Malaysians would rather have the option of smaller but affordable properties than a 900 square feet house beyond their price range.

Speaking on home ownership and young Malaysians, he also illustrated how property ownership is the first step towards equity in Malaysia, as encouraging young Malaysians to invest in property as soon as possible would insulate them from the effects of ever-growing inflation. Noting that property prices rise faster than inflation rates, Tan Sri Datuk Chen was able to impress the importance of home ownership upon the roomful of young students looking to enter the property market sometime in the next five to ten years.

However, going back to his earlier points on location and preferences, Tan Sri Datuk Chen wrapped up his lecture by stressing the importance of both affordable and practical housing, especially in terms of accessibility. As such, he dedicated the final minutes of his lecture to suggesting transit-oriented developments (TOD) as the way forward for Malaysian property development. The issue with Malaysian development as it currently stands, he noted, is that “we build first, and then hope transportation will come”. Even with our current public transportation infrastructure, the critical challenge of “the last mile” remains as Malaysians are unable to fully rely on public transportation to carry them through their daily commute. The solution is to focus development around transportation hubs like LRT and MRT stations, which Tan Sri Datuk Chen believes will allow consumers affordable and convenient options while also minimizing Malaysians’ carbon footprint by promoting the use of public transportation.

Following his 45-minute session, Tan Sri Datuk Chen participated in a Q & A session with the audience, fielding student questions on the government’s role in promoting TOD, the impact our changing lifestyles will have on development, and the crucial relationship between affordable housing and public transportation. Finally, reflecting on his time as a student activist during his Monash years, Tan Sri Datuk Chen urged interested students to practice critical thought regarding government policies and developer habits, as well as to speak up and demand the right to sustainable development.