Twenty years to define resettlement

Tam Nguyen, Ho Chi Minh City Community Manager
Ho Chi Minh City, 12 November 2014

Since 1984: Resettlement Initiated

In the ten years after the Vietnam War, there were few housing projects built in Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon). The government mostly repaired and distributed existing houses to families of government officials. The government started to accumulate resources for new housing projects to resettle families living along the polluted inner-city canals. These canals were, and still have been, the biggest slum communities in HCMC.

Since then, resettlement has been vigorous. In 1985, 7,340 new houses were built using the city's budget. In 1996, families living along canals in four main districts started to resettle — 6,863 families were resettled before 2000. The number reached 13,353 families in 2006, and has still been increasing.

Late 2000s: Problems Revealed

Surveys of the HCMC Institute of Development Studies in 2009 revealed immense challenges surrounding resettled families: issues with income, schooling, vocational training, etc. Among these, the drop in income due to losing old jobs was the most dramatic.

Examples were abundant. Every day, Mr. Trần Trọng Nghĩa, head of a resettled family, had to travel with his children a very long distance back to their former neighborhood for low-paid jobs, for they could not find jobs in their new and still sparsely inhabited resettlement area. Another sparse neighborhood also forced Mrs. Mã Kim Hoa and her two sisters, formerly a street food seller with daily income of VND 200,000-300,000 (USD $9-$14), into unemployment because there were not many people around to sell food to. According to the HCMC Farmer Association, in 2009 there were only 15 percent of resettled families earning a good income, 45 percent were trying to maintain a stable income and 35 percent were facing economic difficulty.

Besides employment, very few resettled communities could adequately provide other social amenities. They lacked schools for children, entertainment sites for youth, markets for homemakers, parks and other communal spaces for the elderly. Many groups of families ended up leaving these "better" homes to come back and illegally rebuild informal settlements in crowded districts of HCMC.

Starting in 2014: Resettlement Redefined

Multiple reports, articles, and even television broadcasts have made it clear that resettlement projects focusing solely on housing are a failed solution for informal communities. A better house alone brings no better livelihood. "Integrated resettlement," which cares about surrounding facilities and amenities needed for a better standard of living, has recently starting coming up more frequently in recent years.

A number of integrated solutions have recently been proposed. One is same-place resettlement, where families would be supported to find temporary houses until their old informal communities are rebuilt into better housing. The on-going Saigon Makeover Competition, organized by Global Shapers of World Economic Forum with support from the government, is indeed seeing many creative same-place resettlement proposals for slum communities (photo 1 & 2). Another solution encourages more complete social facilities in each housing contract, emphasizing the short-term cost for a longer-term attraction for well-integrated communities.

Suggested solutions are promising, but new and few in number. However, with the problem redefined, hopefully the next steps to address these challenges will be faster and stronger.

Photo 1: "Revive a city"s corner," Saigon Makeover Competition - Authors: Nguyễn Ngọc Quỳnh Thy, Đỗ Kim Chung, Phan Xuân Thiện. Photo 2: "Saigon Playing," Saigon Makeover Competition - Authors: DNK Studio" Vũ Xuân Dự, Thân Minh Nhật và Lưu Hoàng Kiếm.

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