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SLUM NEWS

December 15, 2016

          Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, formerly known as Saigon, was the capital of Vietnam during the Vietnam War. According to Peter Arnett, Associated Press writer for The Robesonian on February 6, 1968, Saigon and its suburbs had an estimated 3 million people living in homes and shacks within the city. On this day tens of thousands of refugees flooded the city, fleeing their homes in the southern part of the city toward the capital center for protection against the Viet Cong. Fast forward to the year 1996 and there were over 67,000 squatter houses in Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) with 300,000 inhabitants or about 7% of the total urban population. About 24,000 are built along the heavily polluted canals and are government targets for removal, according to Nguyen Vinh and Michael Leaf in their article “City Life in the Village of Ghosts: A Case Study of Popular Housing in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.”  As of April 1, 2009 the total population of HCMC according to Wikipedia is 7,162,864 which include: 259 wards, 58 communes, and 5 townships. Between the 2004 census and the 2009 census HCMC grew by 1,045,613 people.       

            Mike Davis, author of Planet of Slums, writes about the significance of slums in contemporary global cities by illustrating the different types of slum dwellers there are and the prevalence of slums. Slums are a global issue and are not just found in Vietnam. Davis writes that “not all urban poor live in slums and not all slum dwellers are poor” (p25). What he means by this is that those that live in slums often do so as a way to live close by their employment, hence, a chosen living space because to live anywhere else would exceed their income. In order to save their income they chose living standards that are less then exceptional. Also, to be poor does not always mean living in less than standard living conditions. People who live in slums seek out a living situation that meets their individual needs such as being close to where they work or as with Cairo’s City of the Dead, Egypt, those that take over the tombs do so because it is a ready- made structure. Many of the slums are illegal settlements where the dwellers face eviction by the government daily—only to rebuild the next day. Other types of slums dwellers are able to obtain land entitlements and live on the land legally, however, with little sanitary resources available to them. The private urbanization of slums have pushed the slums out of the inner-city; moving the people further from their employment, but onto land that is otherwise considered by land developers not a good investment. The slum dwellers are always in a motion of either rebuilding their homes or finding new places to dwell and are in constant threat of government.

             Katharine Coit describes in her article, “Housing Policy and Slum Upgrading in Ho-Chi-Minh City,”  how the new housing policies since the implementation of doi moi (renovation) in Ho Chi Minh City affect the low –income population.  Coit explains that the government had taken the responsibility for providing housing for those working for the state such as civil servants, workers in state owned industries, war heroes, veterans, and their children. The government built high rise or row houses charging little or no rent, however, the buildings were not maintained and in 1986 the government stopped providing such housing. The existing housing turned into slums housing the low income to extreme low income. The government decided to transform these locations into business districts rather than renovating them and moved the inhabitants to undesirable remote areas of the cities. The program of renovation provided for slum clearance of 5000 slum houses and 6000 families were re-housed on ‘new economic waste land’.  The dwellers, according to the author, moved out of the government provided housing and back into the city slums—often finding shelter in cemeteries, on stilts over the rivers and canals, and in the swampy areas of the city.

            Sabastien Wust (et al) describes in his article, “Metropolization and the Ecological Crisis: Precarious Settlements in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam,” the ecological crisis in Ho Chi Minh City as a clash between the economic growth since the implementation of the doi moi (renovation) policy and the inability of the poor to have access to the improved conditions from such growth. The authors describe the renewal process as most painful to those who are least favored by the system—the poor. Since the expansion, the government has privatized the education, health, housing, and other public services; what was once free is no longer free, therefore, the poor are left without options continuing to marginalize them. Nguyen Vinh and Michael Leaf argue that in a truly socialist economy urban spatial segregation by class would not exist and the social marginality of slum dwellers would be eliminated; however, since Vietnam has shifted to the doi moi policy the economy has moved to a market economy introducing class differences into the society. The shift has produced adverse conditions on the ‘marginalised’ portion of the urban population dwelling within the slums of Ho Chi Minh City. The authors refer to the slums, squatter settlements, and low income housing units as the ‘popular-housing section’ within Ho Chi Minh City. These dwellings are constructed by the owners with their own money; however, they do not hold legal title to the land. Without legal title the government can retake the land for commercial development without compensation to the dweller, thus the popular housing dweller is considered transitional.

    Okada Fumiko shared her personal experiences during her 2002 summer visit to HCMC slums. Fumiko described the slums that she visited as causing her to feel like she entered into a different world.  The slum dwellers do not hold legal title to the land they were living on and the government considered this tresspassing--which in turn caused their children to not be able to obtain an education or for them to receive any government assistance. Fumiko further explained that in order to pay rent and have money the slum dwellers would do whatever they had too. They would collect trash, sell something on the streets, or beg, but despite this they were better organized as a community. 

            Martin Gainsborough describes in his journal article “Understanding Communist Transition: Property Rights in Ho Chi Minh City in the Late 1990s” how the change from a socialist economy to a market economy forced the need of the residents to obtain property rights to their homes in order to maintain ownership of them, be able to sell them legally, or be compensated by the government should the government declare eminent domain. Obtaining legal title to land, according to the author, allows the owner to become part of the real estate boom in Ho Chi Minh City. In years prior, land ownership was never an issue, because of the socialist economy the people were taken care of by the government, however, with the move to a market economy and privatization a new social hierarchy was beginning to emerge. In order to move up the social ladder an individual must have legal title to their land.

            The slums grew up during war, but the government policy of doi moi (renovation) began to clean up the cities within Vietnam and called for the removal of the older homes (slums) to provide space for private companies to build skyscrapers and new homes. Since the implementation of the doi moi policy in the late 1980’s Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, has under gone dramatic changes within the government policy and in urban development. The economy changed from a socialist economy to a market economy with a socialist government, but the individuals that are no longer being helped are those that fall within the lower income bracket. HCMC now has a society of individuals that fall within different classes, but those that were poor remain poor, living in slum conditions.

According to an outdated BBC report there is a slum district in Ho Chi Minh City and I live in it. The slum (khu nha o chuot in Vietnamese) is the area around Thi Nghe - Nhieu Loc Canal. The houses here are built along canals where the roads aren't built right next to the canal, giving the houses an opportunity to encroach upon the water

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