Thanks to the frozen real estate market, hundreds of unoccupied and unfinished villas and terraced houses are currently acting as temporary homes for poor people and blue-collar workers, who need a place for free or for low rent.
However, living in these multibillion Vietnam dong houses is very uncomfortable. (VND1 billion = $47,000)
Unwillingly living in a big house
On a rainy day, Nguyen Quoc Khanh, who is around 60, looked sadly at the empty road from “his villa”, surrounded by weeds and garbage, in Van Quan new town on Phuc La Street in Hanoi’s Ha Dong District.
Khanh left Thanh Hoa Province to work as a construction security guard in Hanoi. Via a broker, he took a job cleaning the unfinished villa for VND1 million. However, he has never been paid. The newly cleaned house has been unoccupied for a very long time. Therefore, in order to save on rent, Khanh decided to simply move into the villa, instead of renting another house.
“This villa has been left empty for 10 years. I don’t even know who the owner is. It was covered in weeds, garbage and injection needles and smelled bad before I cleaned it over three days”, he shared.
At the deserted villa, the man and his wife opened a small tea shop and pump up bicycle and motorbike tires to earn their daily living.
However, although the villa is free, it is very uncomfortable to live, as it has no door, no windows, no electricity and no water supply system. Their properties are only some equipment to do their job, an old bicycle, a bed and chairs that they picked up from rich people’s garbage.
“Moreover, we need to watch over the house to make sure there is no litter every day. Living in this VND17 billion villa is not a dream”, Khanh said.
Poor hamlet in an area of villas
There are at least 20 unfinished villas and terraced houses in Van Khe new town in Ha Dong District of Hanoi. One of them is currently the free home of Nguyen Trong Hoang and nine others, all from Hanoi’s Quoc Oai District and the workers at the Thanh Phuc Company.
They work hard in many newly built houses to earn only VND 3-4 million every month. Therefore, they have to live in vacant houses to save on rent. Since it is an unfinished home, they have only equipped it with necessary items such as beds, water jugs and a place to hang their washing.
When asked about restrooms, Hoang said, “We share public restrooms and have electricity and water supply provided by our company nearby.”
“There are about 20 more workers living around here. We have to live here to save money despite the lack of many fundamental things. Moreover, there are many heroin addicts in the area. Hence, we must be careful not to step on any injection needles”, he added.
Their neighbors are Ngoc Thi Bang, 51, and six other women from Phu Tho Province.
Bang has worked many jobs in Hanoi for five years, such as scrap iron dealing, litter and bottle collection, and peddling, as well as working for Ha Chau Construction Company, which is her current job. Her task is to tidy up the construction site, which provides her with VND 90,000 every day. “However, I haven’t been paid for several months. It is so boring”, she sighed.
Some of her roommates came to Hanoi seven years ago, while others have just arrived. They all came to find jobs.
“What we are most afraid of in this villa are mosquitoes and thieves. We have to protect ourselves from lots of mosquitoes in this deserted house and preserve our properties. Everything could be stolen, even your washing. Therefore, we must gather all of the washing hanging outside before going to work,”, she added.
It takes money to live in hell
Unlike the workers in Van Khue and Van Quan new towns, poor people living in vacant houses in Mo Lao new town in Hanoi’s Ha Dong District have to pay rent.
Most of the unoccupied houses in the town are blocked by barbed wire and boards of wood. If anyone wants to live or run businesses in these houses, they must pay the owners.
Le Ngoc Binh, who lives in one of these deserted villas, said, “It’s impossible to find a place to live and open a store within the city. Hence, we must live in this vacant house. Here we opened an inn and fix motorcycles.”
After the 235 square-meter villa was completed in 2010, the owner bought it but never moved in. Hee then announced that he would sell it for VND 16 billion, but no one bought it. Therefore, he lets Binh rent it and asks for VND 7 million every month, which is, according to Binh, very expensive for this remote region. As a result, Binh lets several other people rent rooms on the second and third floors.
However, people rarely want to rent these rooms, his inn is experiencing a slump, and he hardly ever has motorbikes to fix.
Some of Binh’s neighbors are more lucky, they have been allowed to open tea shops without a fee, and only pay money if they want to live in the houses.
According to statistics from the Hanoi People’s Committee, approximately 655 villas and 574 partially completed terraced houses have been left empty in Hanoi years. The authorities have tried to remedy the situation, to no avail. Even though they put a five to ten percent tax on these vacant houses, the situation remains unchanged.