Thailand dramatically improved conditions in its slums in just ten years by allowing residents to rebuild them themselves. Through the Baan Mankong (“affordable housing”) program, funds are handed to resident-led community groups to convert slum dwellings into durable homes, invest in sanitation and infrastructure, and secure long-term tenancies. “It’s upgrading buildings, but upgrading people at the same time, and their ability to organise,” said Somsook Boonyabancha, secretary-general of the Asian Coalition for Housing Rights and formerly the director of the Community Organisations Development Institute Thailand, which implemented Baan Mankong. “It changes the relationship from supply-driven housing, where the residents are buyers or recipients, to demand-driven, where the people work hard themselves to make their own communities. They’re not only building houses, but a social system.” The program has helped Thailand dramatically improve conditions in over 300 cities/districts even while urbanisation has rapidly increased. The share of population living in durable dwellings increased from 66% in 2000 to 84% in 2010. Between 1990 and 2010, the percentage of Thai people living in poverty declined from 39% to 9% in urban areas, while the share of population living in urban areas increased from 29% to 44%. In 2003, the Thai government announced the Baan Mankong program as part of a push to improve the conditions of one million low-income households within five years. Loans are provided directly to communities in slum areas, provided they form saving groups and governing organisations. “It is their process: they have to be the ones to make the decisions,” said Boonyabancha. Writing in a report in 2005, she explains that, through collective decision-making, residents “develop an understanding of what structures the city, which explains the different groups, the different conditions and the different forces at work that create those different conditions.” In order to qualify for a loan, communities must form a cooperative for their neighbourhood and save 10% of the amount required through a savings organisation. “The community manages the budget for themselves – they need to be organised and have a system,” said Boonyabancha. The threshold is in place to ensure that loans are managed effectively, and that money isn’t wasted. From this point they are connected with local government, educated professionals, academics, NGOs, and other slum communities to carry out a survey of the condition of slums across the entire city. They identify priorities, with an emphasis placed on pilot projects which can succeed. “Even within a single residence you need to reach agreement between people with different views,” said Boonyabancha. “Sometimes you have differences of income, or ideas. This is what community is all about – working out who has what needs, how people can work together to fulfil these, and manage their differences.” CODI acts as a mediator, linking the weakest and most precarious communities together to increase their collective bargaining power with landlords. Because the conditions which lead to slums building up are complex, the Baan Mankong system is designed to be flexible. The comprehensive land survey allows communities to work out who owns which land, whether tenancies are short-term or longer, the condition of sanitation and infrastructure and economic relationships in the area. They can then work out for themselves which approach to apply to their settlements. If the land is owned by private landlords, then city authorities work with the community to negotiate. “Most slums are based on insecure tenancies. Often the solution is to buy the land – with CODI’s help the communities negotiate with landowners,” said Boonyabancha. “Most of the time the price they get is much lower than the market price. ”The survey helps communities to understand the structure of housing in the city, and the conflicting interests at play. By completing the work for themselves cooperatively they win an understanding of this complexity, and with it an understanding of what is possible. They also build the network, alliances and friendships they need to make change possible. Several examples completed within the first two years of the program display this flexibility. In the Charoenchai Nimitmai neighbourhood in Bangkok, a slum settlement next to railway tracks, the community formed a cooperative and used the Baan Mankong funding to purchase the land and rebuild the community. In another instance where the land was owned by the Thai crown or government, communities negotiated long-term leases and planned reconstructions, or negotiated to move from dangerous plots to available land elsewhere. Improvements in housing conditions have a dramatic impact on the lives and livelihoods of residents. Having a formal address helps residents gain employment, and children in the upgraded neighbourhoods were found to spend on average 3.6 extra hours per week studying. Baan Mankong was granted an approved budget of $90 million for slum upgrading and $130 million for housing loans from the Thai government. It expanded on work begun in the 1990s to include communities in decision making about housing through the Urban Community Development Office, the predecessor for CODI. The policy has its limitations. A report from the Overseas Development Institute describes how the 10% saving threshold for each community savings organisation prevents some of the poorest slum dwellers from participation. While the program helps to improve the lives of those already living in slums, it fails to deal with the problems that lead to the formation of slums in the first place. Only city planning and the building of accommodation can solve these issues. Perhaps this is the point. By empowering slum dwellers to improve their own conditions, through Baan Mankong the Thai government acknowledges them as legitimate parts of the city, rather than an aberration to be cleared or abolished, and ultimately something which can and should be improved – a duty of government. “The housing itself becomes a system of community,” said Boonyabancha. “It builds a social system which, once it exists, allows people to move forward.”
Dop Ameen provides the hospitality, residential, commercial and cultural sectors with fine art photography, art consulting and project management. He also works for individuals on specific topics for individuals (modeling, portraits, interior decoration, etc.).
Dop Ameen is a worldwide citizen, photographer, art consultant and curator based in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam) with many projects in Southeast Asia. Born as a creative entrepreneur, he grew up as a gentle rebel. He studied rational sciences at the university and worked as an innovator in various industries. He flew beyond many horizons, especially to rock around Asia with a motorcycle. That’s how he came into Art and photography. He do not believe much in mentorship, but he must admit David Lynch showed him some ways to explore. If you like his work, then he will do his best to create something new for you. If you do not, look twice. If you are a model or something else, don't be shy, contact him, he likes boring things.