PHNOM PENH (Khmer Times) – Every year since 2007, the Phnom Penh government has sent letters to residents of the iconic White Building warning that it is unsafe and urging them to move out. Every year, most of the 547 families packed into the aging apartment complex choose to stay.
“I don’t believe that the building will collapse,” said a man who moved into the building shortly after it was constructed in 1963, and asked to remain anonymous.
“The building is still strong if people don’t renovate more,” he said.
White Building residents’ do-it-yourself renovations have added weight to the aging building, constructed as low-income housing by Prince Norodom Sihanouk in 1963.
Residents have added new floors, ceilings, and other improvements, while new families have moved into the building. The White Building’s 468 apartments are now home to 547 families, according to Khat Narith, commune chief of the Tonle Bassac neighborhood.
New apartment complexes have been thrown skyward around the White Building, but the building itself has not been renovated. The strain has begun to show. Residents say large cracks appeared in the south wall of the building earlier this year during construction on a neighboring lot.
Mr. Narith said the government has warned residents about the dangers of the building, but was quick to dismiss rumors it would evict residents or demolish the building.
“The government isn’t trying to evict people,” he said. “If people want to live there, it’s okay. But if people have family outside the building it would be safer to move in with them temporarily.”
The government last week sent residents letters warning them of the dangers of the building. However, it has not taken responsibility for repairing the building. Instead, Mr. Narith said it hopes to choose a private company that could enter into contracts with residents one by one to repair their apartments.
Many of the residents lack the money to pay for these repairs, or to move to a safer residence. Meng Houng sells groceries in one of the many stalls that line the side of the building. “If I had money I would buy another house,” she said. “But because I don’t have money I have to live here. If it collapses, I don’t know what I’ll do.”