Thursday, December 1 2022

His family is one of three who continue to live on the second floor of the 1A apartment complex at 67 Vong Ha Street in Hanoi’s Hoan Kiem district.

The 66-year-old building once housed dozens of families. However, many moved after termites damaged the wooden beams and because of concerns about possible fires.

“Who would want to live in houses that are constantly threatened with collapse? asks Mai, a woman in her fifties.

“We decided to stay here because of our financial situation.”

Mai at her apartment in Complex 1A at 67 Vong Ha Street in Hanoi’s Hoan Kiem district on October 6, 2022. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Nguyen

Her apartment measures 25 square meters and has a loft, bedroom, living room and dining area large enough for her family of five.

It has a bed and a closet.

The family recently transformed the outdoor hallway into a kitchen area, with the shelf with utensils and crockery close to the wall, reducing the load on the wooden pillars below.

Mai, who lives in the heart of the capital, rarely invites guests because the house is too small, too cold in winter and too hot in summer.

Also, the nearest public toilets are a good hundred meters down the street.

Mai says, “The hardest thing is that even when there is water up to our calves during rain events, we have to ford to go to the bathroom to take a shower.

“The building doesn’t even have water. Residents have to carry buckets to draw water from public toilets.”

But the queues have diminished since some owners added their own facilities, bought water from tanks or moved in recent years, she says.

His is one of the few remaining families dependent on public facilities.

Dinh Cuong, Mai’s neighbor for more than 15 years, had to renovate his apartment due to termite damage to the wooden floor, which caused it to sag and peel and expose the wall.

Every time it rains, the roof leaks because of rotten bamboo slats.

“We have to stay here and restore it when needed because my wife and I both work full time but our finances are unstable,” he says.

As he lives in a building that may be on the verge of collapse, he dares not leave valuables in the house.

“Our greatest wish is that the authorities quickly determine an appropriate relocation agreement or provide sufficient compensation for us to move.”

Wooden staircase leading to the second floor.  Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Nguyen

A wooden staircase leading to the second floor. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Nguyen

According to statistics from the city’s construction department, the building is one of 1,579 apartment towers that are 40 years old or older. Of these, 179 are classified as “dangerous” or “severely damaged”.

Most were built between 1960 and 1994, with a few before 1954 when Vietnam gained independence from France.

The buildings are badly run down and often flooded, have poor fire safety systems and no parking space.

A renovation plan was announced by the city over 20 years ago with the aim of demolishing all old apartments by 2015.

Five years ago, 19 investors pledged to renovate 30 of them, but things have only reached the first and second stages of the project. Some have withdrawn.

However, only 19 apartments have been upgraded or rebuilt and work is underway in 14 others.

This has left many families discouraged and hopeless of finding a new home.

Le Quang Binh, head of the local residential district, explains that the building covers around 1,300 square meters and was built in 1955.

Life is difficult for the three families of the second floor and more than 10 on the first floor, he says.

“People want to renovate and repair their houses, but there are many obstacles. The local administration has reinforced them to ensure safety while their occupants wait for the final resettlement plans. We always advise people to be careful and follow fire prevention measures.

Nguyen Van Vinh, chairman of the Chuong Duong district people’s committee, says the building is one of the oldest remaining structures in the district and is badly damaged.

“We have petitioned the district and the city asking for plans to manage and clean up the land to improve people’s quality of life as soon as possible,” Vinh said.

Dao Quang Tho, 68, has lived on the first floor of this building with his family for nearly 40 years. To reduce the electrical load and prevent fires, he transports the portable kitchen to the family restaurant at the end of the driveway twice a day to cook.

The electrical system is old, and the bundles of wires are tangled on the wooden beams and wrapped in woven bamboo sheets. If unfortunately a fire breaks out, it can burn down the whole house.

He said he saw mice the size of his calf with loose hair and long tails, scaring both cats and humans. Residents on upper and lower floors are kept awake by noisy rats feeding and running at night.

“Although we tried to trap them, our efforts were ultimately unsuccessful. Perhaps that is why this place is called a ‘slum’ in the heart of the capital,” he lamented.

Building 1A is

There are 13 households living in Building 1A. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Nguyen

According to documents from the Department of Natural Resources and Environment of Hoan Kiem District, Wooden House 1A was part of the city’s renovation plans 20 years ago.

However, more than ten households remained here and were unable to move due to financial difficulties and obstacles in the compensation and resettlement process. Many wish to live in the same building once renovated rather than moving elsewhere.

Tho said that despite many inconveniences, he wanted to stay.

“My ancestors farmed, traded and called this area home for centuries. old buildings and make it convenient for me to live here once it’s done,” he said.


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