Government to Grant Owners Papers in White Building

More than 500 government officials will descend upon Phnom Penh’s iconic White Building on December 3 to vet apartments for size and ownership details, the latest step in moving out residents and making way for a new high-rise on the plot.

The Land Management Ministry plans to issue ownership certificates for units with clear boundaries and undisputed ownership, said ministry spokesman Cheam Sophal Makara.

A woman sits in a stairwell in Phnom Penh’s low-income housing White Building on Tuesday. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)
A woman sits in a stairwell in Phnom Penh’s low-income housing White Building on Tuesday. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)

Built in 1963 under then-Prince Norodom Sihanouk, the Chamkar Mon district housing complex is home to more than 500 families and small businesses—and many others who rent spaces in the building.

Two years after the building was condemned due to safety concerns, the Land Management Ministry announced last month that the building would be knocked down to make way for an $80 million, 21-story development financed by Japanese developer Arakawa.

Residents willing to wait for the four-year project to be completed would receive modern accommodations with 10 percent more space and soaring property values, the ministry announced, adding that temporary accommodations would be provided near the Royal Phnom Penh Hospital.

For those not interested in the new housing plans, the ownership certificates can be used “as a source of capital” for residents to sell as they see fit, Mr. Sophal Makara said.

Still, he said he was unsure when the certificates would be issued.

Dy Sophannaramany, a representative of the roughly 500 families with claims to space in the White Building, said aside from being notified that ownership certificates were on the way, “I don’t know anything yet.”

Residents walk through the halls of the White Building in Phnom Penh on Tuesday. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)

Having carried out a survey among her community, Ms. Sophannaramany said that 90 percent of families would rather sell their properties than hold out for the new accommodation.

Kheng Ngun, deputy managing director of Arakawa, said the information collected during the building survey would inform the company’s designs.

“The government will document how many families live there and how much space they occupy and how many units, and then we will build based on this data,” Mr. Ngun said.

“The senior minister wants to make sure all the residents who own units will receive new apartments once the new White Building is constructed,” he said, referring to Land Management Minister Chea Sophara.

“He wants everyone involved, especially the community, to benefit from the project,” he added.

Mr. Ngun said, however, that ownership certificates for White Building apartments would not be distributed until the new building “is partially completed,” and that families hoping to opt out of the new accommodation would have to seek out buyers interested in their plot.

“We don’t buy the properties,” he said.,

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