Residents of Phnom Penh’s iconic White Building have vowed to remain in their homes following another inspection of the site by government officials and rising fears that the area is slated for redevelopment.
Officials from the Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction visited the building, which was built in 1963 to serve as a low-income housing block, late last week and on Friday officially requested that Japan assist in redeveloping the site, the Cambodia Daily reported on Monday.
The request came about two years since City Hall declared the building condemned.
Seng Lot, a construction ministry spokesman, said the government was concerned for the safety of the residents.
“We are concerned by this old building. Firstly, with safety because this building is condemned and the second thing is that the beauty of this building does not fit with the age of rising developments in Phnom Penh, as well as our country that is thriving strongly with beautiful and luxury buildings. Therefore, the appearance of this building is unacceptable,” he said.
He continued that the government was also concerned by the environment inside the apartments.
“The sanitation and the environment are all not right, so the ministry understood these things and came with plans to organize these things in any way,” he added.
Khat Narith, chief of Chamkarmon district’s Tonle Basac commune, confirmed that city officials also inspected the building on Friday. He declined to comment further.
After the building was condemned in 2014, a year later, in July 2015, a notice was issued calling on residents to vacate the property temporarily over safety concerns. The residents, however, ignored the request.
El Ny, a 63-year-old White Building resident, said he and his neighbors would not relocate without the offer of a comprehensive compensation package.
“I don’t want to move because I want to live in this place. I have lived here for more than 30 years. I can do business to feed my children and grandchildren near to my home. So, it will be difficult for me if I live far away from here,” he said.
Chan Noeun, 46, another resident, said her family also did not want to move.
“In my mind, if [Minister of Land Management] Chea Sophara intends to develop this site into a better place, I will be happy because I don’t want to move out of this land. I have lived here a long time and it’s close to my children’s school and it’s also close to the market,” she said.
Prum Somkhan, the governor of Chamkarmon district, declined to comment.
Over the years numerous campaigns have sought to preserve the White Building, which was an architectural icon when it was built in the 1960s.
If the government is now determined to redevelop the prime real estate, Sia Phearum, director of the Housing Rights Task Force, said it must do all it can to avoid a long-running dispute.
In February, the authorities took residents to view housing projects on the Chroy Changva peninsula across the Tonle Sap River from the capital, which they said would be offered to the White Building residents as compensation.