Canal Housing Projects on 2 canals in Bangkok

Bangkok’s beleaguered canal-side communities:  Bangkok is built on low-lying, swampy land.  The city is crisscrossed with canals (“klongs” in the Thai language), which have not only helped drain and control all the water, but have traditionally provided conduits for commerce, transportation, irrigation and development.  But as cars have replaced boats, the klongs have fallen into disrepair:  used for dumping sewage and solid waste, or concreted over to make way for buildings and roads.  At the same time worsening problems of flooding and pollution are blamed on the informal communities which line many of Bangkok’s klongs, when the real culprit is unchecked urbanization and poor planning.

Canal-side communities show a new way:  For decades, the government’s only idea was to evict these settlements, but beleaguered klong-side communities in many Thai cities began using their common predicament to form networks, improve their klongs and their settlements and negotiate to stay put, by demonstrating that they can be the city’s best partner in taking care of these crucial water management systems.  Canal-side communities in many cities have initiated regular canal-cleaning events, developed simple technologies (like EM and grease traps) to lesson pollution in the canals.  A growing number of canal settlements have also negotiated long-term leases to the public land they occupy and used the Baan Mankong Program to finance projects to rebuild their houses and redevelop their settlements with canal-side walkways, gardens and public spaces.

There are 1,161 canals in Bangkok, and 23,500 households live in informal settlements on the narrow strips of public land along those canals.

The pioneering project on Klong Bang Bua:  One of the most visited of all the Baan Mankong housing projects in Bangkok is the one along the Bang Bua Canal, where a network of 13 canal-side squatter settlements have been implementing a large project to pull back from the canal edge and redevelop their houses in the narrow strip of public land along the canal, with canal-side walkways and easy access to the canal for the city’s flood-control and dredging equipment.  It is a win-win solution in which the canal-side squatters get secure housing in-situ, on long term collective land lease, and the city gets improved flood control and improved canals.

A canal community policy breakthrough:  upgrade them instead of evicting them.  In 2015, faced with increasing flooding problems, and inspired by the success of the housing upgrading project along Klong Bang Bua, the national government announced an important policy to upgrade the informal settlements along Bangkok’s canals and build concrete embankments to improve flood management in the city.  To do this, they asked CODI for help.  For the government, this was a chance to upgrade the city’s drainage network, and for CODI, it was a chance to boost the community-driven upgrading of more canal-side communities.

Now upgrading 51 communities along Klong Ladprao:  In 2016, the government asked CODI to work with the 7,000 poor families who live in 51 canal-side squatter communities along the 31-km length of the Klong Ladprao, another of the city’s principal canals.  Besides improving drainage, the community-driven housing process on Klong Ladprao is providing people with secure housing, better environment and infrastructure, and stronger social and economic opportunities, and involves an extraordinary collaboration between various municipal and national government agencies, the canal-side communities, CODI, universities, architects and other local stakeholders.

Mostly on-site upgrading, with very little displacement:  Most of the communities are reconstructing their housing on the same site, with housing loans from CODI’s Baan Mankong Program, which are made in bulk to the housing cooperatives the communities must all set up to access CODI finance.  Since all the land along the canal is public land, the government grants long-term collective land leases (30 years), to the community cooperatives, at rental rates of US$ 1 – 4 per m2 per year.  In cases where there is not enough land for on-site reconstruction, some households have to relocate to other areas nearby.  Some of the Klong Ladprao communities have included partial on-site reconstruction and partial relocation.  Seven housing projects (1,080 families) out of total 36 projects (3,741 families) have involved some relocation to other areas.

Tight layouts with row-houses:  Two standard house types have been adopted in the Ladprao canal housing projects, to make new housing affordable to everyone:  a one-story house (24 m2) for poorer or smaller families, and a two-story row-house (56 m2).   The houses cost between 200,000-500,000 baht ($6,250 – $15,625) per unit, which is about 25% of existing market prices.

Financing:  Housing loans from CODI are made in bulk to the community cooperatives, at 4% annual interest, repayable over 20 years.  Monthly loan repayments will be 1,500 – 3,000 baht ($46 – $93), which is affordable to most urban poor households.  The government also provides four kinds of subsidies to the projects (and to all Baan Mankong projects also), through CODI:

  • Housing subsidy: 25,000 baht ($760) per household
  • Infrastructure subsidy: 50,000 baht ($1,520) per household (combined and managed collectively in one fund)
  • shelter subsidy: 18,000 baht ($545) per household
  • Moving subsidy: 54,000 baht ($1,635) per household
  • TOTAL subsidy: 147,000 baht  ($4,455) per household

Klong Ladprao Details:

  • Households: 7,000 (in 51 communities)
  • Land-owner: Government land
  • Tenure terms: Cooperative land lease (30 years)
  • Type of project: On-site reconstruction
  • Completed so far: 3,000 houses (mostly in-situ)
  • In process: 1,000 houses