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Vietnam’s Micro-Apartments: A Blessing and a Curse

by Rahil M
0 comment

The bustling city of Vietnam attracts thousands of tourists and foreign students every year. Accommodating the increasing population and providing housing for the people had become a concern for authorities. So, in order to meet the demands, a new mode of dwelling facility called the ‘micro-apartments’ is gaining popularity. This micro-apartment is hailed as a godsend for the poor but harbours a deadly risk. 

Last year’s tragic blaze on Khuong Ha Street serves as a worrying reminder of the problems within these compact living spaces. Fifty-six lives, including innocent children, were lost to the fire sparked by a scooter’s short circuit. What began as a localized electrical malfunction swiftly consumed the building’s upper floors. The situation was further worsened by overcrowding caused by subdividing units to accommodate more tenants.

What are Micro-apartments?

Micro-apartments, also known as known as “chung cu mini,” have increased across Vietnam’s metropolises. Micro-apartments offer shelter to low-income families and students. Lan Vo, a former resident, paints a bleak picture of their presence, comparing them to mushrooms sprouting everywhere.

Beneath the surface of affordability lies the reality of compromised safety standards and lax regulations. Le Hoang Chau, chairman of the Ho Chi Minh City Real Estate Association, attaches the surge in micro-apartments to a chronic shortage of housing for the economically weaker section.

The unfortunate fire accident prompted the officials to check into the issue. Vietnam’s authorities confronted the problems caused by inadequate building codes and the shortage of social housing infrastructure. The appealing nature of micro-apartments such as affordability had failed the efforts to ban them outright. 

These compact dwellings, resembling elongated tubes, dot narrow alleys in densely populated districts, catering primarily to students and blue-collar workers. Ho Chi Minh City alone boasts over 60,000 micro-apartment buildings, housing approximately 1.8 million residents, proof of their persistent presence.

In Hanoi, where over 2,000 such buildings are connected to the power grid, the struggle for affordable housing is equally evident. The affordability, with prices as low as 600 million Vietnamese dongs (approximately $24,615), contradicts the financial strain on tenants.

For many, micro-apartments represent an uncertain lifeline. Vo recalls the cramped conditions she endured, witnessing firsthand the exploitation by landlords who prioritized profit over safety. The absence of emergency exits and fire prevention facilities compounds the risk, turning these structures into potential death traps.

The worrying accounts of tenants highlight a systemic failure in guaranteeing basic safety measures. Some people who reside in Micro-apartments criticize the absence of monthly fire drills. They mention that the drills are replaced by gestures like fire extinguishers left at doorsteps. This too without proper instructional guidelines.

The stories of people struggling portray negligence from authorities. Property owners, driven by greed, ignore regulations with licenses, constructing unauthorized extensions and overcrowding buildings to maximize profits.

The legal framework of the country only granted limited protection to the tenets. But the recent changes that were introduced to give legal status to micro-apartments is an indicator of taking responsibility. Yet, the inequality in regulations between individual developers and established real estate firms raises concerns about fair implementation.

Lawmakers are fighting to balance affordability and safety, highlighting the contrast inherent in the micro-housing debate. However, micro-apartments are still a practical option for millions of people struggling with the harsh realities of urban life. Despite the risks, they offer stability in a landscape plagued by rising housing costs and diminishing opportunities.

Vo contends that stringent regulations, rather than outright bans, offer a path forward. Empowering tenants to voice grievances and ensuring swift governmental intervention in addressing safety concerns are imperative steps toward safeguarding vulnerable communities.

The discussion surrounding micro-apartments goes beyond mere affordability. It dives deep into the fundamental right to proper living conditions. As Vietnam tackles the complexities of urbanization, the fate of its most marginalized hangs in the balance. 

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