Housing Prices Leave No Room(s) for Bangkok’s Poor

Homeless people sleep on the floor of Hualamphong Train Station in March 2019.

BANGKOK — As housing prices in Bangkok skyrocket, the authorities are struggling to provide enough low-cost housing for the poor, according to both real estate developers and welfare NGOs. 

An extra 300,000 units of low-cost housing are needed in Bangkok, but only 30,000 units are currently being constructed by the authorities, Pornarit Chounchaisit, president of the Thai Real Estate Association, says.

“Total mortgage transfers amounted to 80 trillion baht last year, but only five percent of that accounted for low-cost housing,” Pornarit said, speaking at a press conference organized by Habitat for Humanity, an NGO advocating for affordable housing for all. 

Despite economic slowdown, Pornarit said land prices in Bangkok are still appreciating. The lack of low-cost housing means secure home ownership is out of reach for Bangkok’s poor, who don’t have the assets to secure mortgages from banks.

“We can reduce construction costs, but land prices aren’t going down despite the economy,” Pornarit continued.

Giving an example of Bangkok’s competitive housing market, he said a former employee commuted for a total of four hours to and from work each day.

 “I gave him a sum of money and fired him. I told him to look for another job closer to home,” he said.

While Pornarit was speaking about the exclusion of the poor from Bangkok’s housing market, an academic on the same panel said that even he has struggled to find affordable housing. 

Poon Thiengburanathum, the deputy director of Chiang Mai University’s School of Public Policy, said he took out a 30-year mortgage for a modest 50-square-wah house (200 square meters) in Chiang Mai.

“It’s no fun,” Poon said.

But public housing may not be a feasible solution for Bangkok’s shortage of affordable housing, Tim Loke, the national director of Habitat for Humanity Thailand, warned. A Singaporean, Loke argued that different population sizes mean his home city-state’s successful public housing model cannot be duplicated in Thailand. While Singapore is home to around 5 million citizens, Thailand’s population is closer to 70 million.

In the run up to the March election, Khaosod English found that no political parties promoted issues directly helping the homeless, but often talked of affordable housing.