Agreement Continues to Elude Residents of White Building

A meeting between government officials and about 50 residents of Phnom Penh’s White Building housing complex on Tuesday night did little to bridge the gap between the compensation desired by residents and that offered by Japanese developer Arakawa, which plans to tear down the low-income residential block and construct an $80 million, 21-story development.

The meeting was the latest attempt by the government and about 500 families who reside in the iconic structure to agree on compensation, and frustration is growing among residents who refuse to lower their asking price.

cam photo white building
The White Building on Sothearos Boulevard in Phnom Penh has been slated for demolition by City Hall. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)

Residents have consistently called for about $2,000 per square meter, while Land Management Minister Chea Sophara most recently said Arakawa would agree to $1,100 or $1,260, depending on house size.

“I think a new building would fetch $1,800 or $2,000 per square meter, but this is an old building,” said Keurt Sareth, undersecretary of state at the Land Management Ministry. He added that the ministry did not have a firm deadline for a resolution.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Hun Sarath, one of two village chiefs in the White Building, suggested $1,800 as fair compensation, but that sum was rejected by many of the meeting’s attendees.

“I won’t agree to $1,800. I want $2,000,” said Ly Sokuntheary, who went to Tuesday’s meeting. She estimated about 80 percent of attendees rejected the figure.

The government declared the White Building unsafe in 2014, and plans for Arakawa’s development were announced in October last year. Arakawa’s original compensation plan was for homeowners to receive a new house in the new development, but most residents rejected the offer due to the long wait—four years—and distrust, particularly in light of past developments in Phnom Penh, such as the Borei Keila project, where residents were promised new housing that never materialized.

Ms. Sarath said another meeting was scheduled for Friday, but some homeowners expressed frustration with the seemingly endless negotiations.

“The leaders, the village chiefs, they just negotiate the prices,” said resident Leu Hangtong. “I’m not angry with them, but I am disappointed.”,

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