In pictures: housing, class, and mass evictions in Jakarta

01.05.15

Below is an excerpt and photographs from an unfinished post written this past summer regarding Jakarta’s continuing issues with infrastructure development and forced evictions:

A 2006 Human Rights Watch report on government orchestrated forced evictions of Jakarta residents summed up the dynamic that has dictated the relationship between the city’s working urban poor and the government in one sentence: “One of the overarching themes in the history of Jakarta is the conflict between the desires of its rulers to create a model city to display to the world, and the desires of the poor of Indonesia to seek opportunities within it.”

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Indonesia’s Capitol has continuously seen a massive influx of economic migrants from the rural countryside seeking work and opportunity in a city which continues to attract local & foreign investors, economic development, and capital, which disproportionately flows into the city in comparison to more rural parts of the country. Working class people come to where the money is, only to be told upon arrival that there isn’t room for them. In 2010 Jakarta made up 11.79% of Indonesia’s total population but only 0.3% of its landmass.

A city excavator demolishes homes along the Mampang river

A city excavator demolishes homes along the Mampang river

Residents watch home demolitions along Mampang river

Residents and city officials watch home demolitions along Mampang river

Ever since the Jakarta’s annual mass exodus for the end-of-Ramadan Idul Fitri celebrations, the Jakarta City Administration has been aggressively and vigorously clearing out whole neighborhoods occupied by the city’s urban poor as well as clusters of street vendors from street corners and informal market areas,  people who often live in the same areas being subject to government evictions. In contrast, the City’s wealthy often live in gated (sometimes fortified) and well serviced communities with other families of similar economic status.

The efforts are allegedly part the City administration’s continuing attempts to alleviate Jakarta’s flooding problems by relocating [most, but not all] residents in informal slums along river and reservoir banks in need of dredging to recently constructed low-income housing projects, in addition to removing ‘illegal’ vendors from famed tourist attractions and from certain sidewalks and thoroughfares, due to claims that their presence worsens Jakarta’s already dismal traffic conditions, that they litter excessively and create trash build ups, and that the vendors have no right to live or do business on ‘government land’ in the first place.

Saptol-PP and city officials observe home demolitions

Saptol-PP and city officials observe home demolitions

Pal-merah, Jakarta

Pal-merah, Jakarta

a 'Public Order Agency' truck

A Public Order Agency truck

Some vendors and residents say the evictions are anti-poor, really just a form of harassment, bad for [vendor] business, announced without sufficient time – or none at all – for necessary arrangements, and that the city has no claim to land where expansive communities, in what would probably be called a ‘slum,’ have been long-established, housing multiple generations of Jakarta born families and migrants from other parts of the archipelago.

Mampang residents observe river dredging

Mampang residents observe river dredging

Mampang river resident watches the dredging

Mampang river resident watches the dredging

'illegal' street vendors

‘illegal’ street vendors

The described situation is reflected on the ground in Jakarta’s slum communities. Various article assignments  have unearthed consistent stories of individuals and families coming from across Indonesia to Jakarta in search of work and eventually settling in one of the sprawling mazes of sheet metal roof homes.

At the last remaining community surrounding the Ria Rio reservoir in East Jakarta (the other clusters have already been demolished relocated to low-income housing projects), Ahmad Subairi, a migrant from Surabaya in East Java, smoked a cigarette and shed a little light on his past while looking out towards a adjacent field where kids kicked a soccer ball around burning piles of trash. He moved to Jakarta roughly five years ago with his wife looking for employment, and now works out at the airport mopping floors and doing general custodial duties, providing for his family and paying rent for a house in the neighborhood. He, along with the rest of the neighborhood, is waiting in anticipation of the day that they will be evicted. City officials have been visiting the site on a regular basis, trying to negotiate the relocation of the community to promised affordable housing. Some residents said they were fine with it, others said the new units were too far away from  places of work and their children’s schools to be practical.

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Lebaran seems to be the City’s favorite time to do their clean up, if to judge by past newspaper reports from past years. Deputy governor Basuki Tjaha Purnama or “Ahok” has explicitly said that the timing of the operation was due to the fact that there would be no “protest or clashes” from residents who would be willing to resist.

The timing wasn’t miscalculated at all. With everyone having packed their bags and carted themselves and their families to various destinations across the archipelago, no could protest the mass destruction of their homes by the hands of the grey and brown fatigue clad personnel of Saptol PP, the city Public Order Agency which employs hundreds of bodies to the dirty work of the evictions and demolitions. Ahok and Saptol-PP waited until after the trains and buses had filled up with Idul Fitri travelers in late July execute the evictions, and, as early as July 30th, hundreds of homes had been demolished and street vendors evicted from various locations around Jakarta. Slum housing was torn down near the Tanah Abang railway station and vendors’ wares and entire kiosks confiscated at places such as the Monas national monument, the Dutch Quarter, Kampung Melayu, Jetinegara, and elsewhere.

Saptol-PP personel destroy homes along Mampang river

Saptol-PP personel destroy homes along Mampang river

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Resident watches the evictions

Resident watches the evictions at Mampang river

Excavator dredges Mampang river to help alleviate flooding

Excavator dredges Mampang river to help alleviate flooding. Small ‘green’ walkways were planned to be built along the river banks.

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A Saptol-PP officer survey s the Mampang river

A Saptol-PP officer surveys the Mampang river

A Mampang resident of 27 years stands in front of her belongings on the remains of her former home. She said no one from the city government informed her of the evictions.

A Mampang resident of 27 years and migrant from east Java stands in front of her belongings on the remains of her former home. She said no one from the city government informed her of the demolitions prior to the morning of her eviction.

Mampang residents pick through the rubble

Mampang residents pick through the rubble

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Many people returned from the holidays to find their former homes and livelihoods destroyed. Some vendors – who weren’t provided spots in vendor designated markets – are desperately trying to reclaim the areas that they were evicted from, being dependent on the business heavily trafficked street corners and other locations brought them, leading to games of cat-and-mouse between the vendors and the Public Order Agency. Saptol-PP routinely sends truckloads of men to street corners, causing vendors to scatter, only for the officials to leave and the spontaneous markets reemerge again from the woodwork within minutes. The vendors operate in a state of hyper vigilance. “We never know when they’ll come,” said Suhud, a drink vendor in East Jakarta.

Vendors quickly set up their kiosks once Saptol-PP personnel leave.

Vendors quickly set up their kiosks once Saptol-PP personnel leave.

“They [Saptol-PP] come by four or five times a day”

Vendor sets up his stall once the coast is clear

Vendor sets up his stall once the coast is clear

Saptol-PP officers return

Saptol-PP officers return

Vendors move off the street

Vendors move off the street

Saptol-PP officer watches street vendors vacate the premises

Saptol-PP officer watches street vendors vacate the premises

Saptol-PP officials evict street vendors

Saptol-PP officials evict street vendors

By August 9th more than 3,500 vendors had been evicted or relocated claimed Saptol-PP Head, Kukuh Hadi Santosa. The raids were condemned by a the Indonesian Street Vendor Association (APKLI), who called them a “ineffective short term tactic divorced from a long-term strategy.”

But things aren’t as bad as they used to be. Within recent years, under president elect Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s and now Ahok’s leadership, Jakarta has actually attempted to accommodate the needs of those affected by the evictions by constructing low-income housing units across the city as well as sanctioned market areas where vendors can sell their goods legally and without interference, differing from past years detailed in that 2006 HRW report where city officials or paid groups of thugs would set unwanted slums ablaze and use violent force to evict inhabitants (i.e beating, shooting). Jokowi gained recognition during his time as mayor of Solo in East Java for negotiating with a group of over 900 street vendors, and convincing them to relocate from a city monument to another area, allowing for extensive restoration of what is now a pedestrian friendly park. Similarly, when elected governor of the greater Jakarta area, Jokowi led the charge on working with street vendors to move to city-sanctioned markets off congested city streets and providing affordable housing for people previously living on the banks of the Pluit reservoir in North Jakarta, where extensive dredging was required allow the the reservoir to absorb potentially flood inducing rainwater runoff from Jakarta’s bloated rivers. He routinely met personally with residents of such communities, and would make unannounced visits to construction zones to make sure city officials were doing their jobs and was also for mass transit expansion in both Jakarta and Solo. All in all, a much different tact than that of a decade earlier.

Mampang resident participates in the demolitions. The eviction notifications had mixed success.

Mampang resident participates in the demolitions. The city’s four-days-in-advance outreach efforts to affected communities had mixed success, with some residents having prepared for and accepted the evictions & relocation.

Excavator dredges Pluit reservoir of hyacinth plants, an invasive weed

Excavator dredges Pluit reservoir of hyacinth plants, an invasive weed which attracts trash piles and obstructs water flow

Hyacinth plant shredder at Pluit reservior

Hyacinth plant shredder at Pluit reservior

A government sanctioned 'street market' underneath a North Jakarta mall

A government sanctioned ‘street market’ underneath a Emporium Pluit Mall in North Jakarta. Previously these vendors had sold outside the mall on the street. Most said they enjoyed the new space, but it received less foot traffic.

But while Jokowi’s efforts were both humane and pragmatic, the good intent seems to be routinely lost in the layers of Jakarta’s bureaucracy, never-mind acting governor Ahok’s seeming blatant contempt for the city’s poor. The projects now housing relocated Pluit residents are without clean water and tenants’ rents are rising after being initially promised low rates. Meanwhile some street vendors are given spaces in official markets while others are simply told to vacate the streets. Homes along Jakarta’s riverbanks are being demolished by the city with only a few days notice given to residents, and only people who can prove that they are native to Jakarta are given spaces in the new affordable housing units, according to South Jakarta Mayor Syamsuddin Noor. Deputy govenor Ahok said the same.

A water vendor who serves the tenants of one of the Pluit reservoir projects

A water vendor who serves the tenants of one of the Pluit reservoir projects.

Pluit low-income housing projects

Pluit low-income housing projects. All tenants complained about the water services (or lack there of), and several said they were misled by city officials on the rates for the rooms, with the rent spiking after they had been living there for several months.

Edi Saidi, a activist at the Urban Poor Consortium in Jakarta, said that it is not uncommon for Police or other city agency officials to tap into public water lines and siphon off or divert large amounts of water, presumably to wealthy interests such as hotels and condominiums, leaving housing complexes such as the Pluit projects with as little as an hour of clean water a day.

Evicted Mampang river residents - evicted that same day - carry their belongings

Evicted earlier that day, a Mampang river resident carries his belongings

There seems to have been a a disconnect between what happens on the ground and the ideas concocted by former governor Jokowi in a government office (setting aside current govenor Ahok and other city officials open endorsements of repressive tactics). Perhaps the lack of proper execution of Jokowi’s well intended programs is due to the lingering habits and methodologies of lower ranking officials who were groomed in a past era of utter disregard for the Jakarta’s working poor population. The dislike of migrant workers is also palpable, with the denying of affordable housing to such persons as well as the way the issue is discussed among Jakarta’s politicians. Ahok went as far to say that such people “should be sent back to their hometowns.”

A Saptol-PP officer at the Mampang river

A Saptol-PP officer at the Mampang river

As Tigor, a lawyer from the Jakarta Legal Aid Foundation (a firm that advocates for undeserved community interests) said while surveying evictions and home demolitions along the Mampang river in south Jakarta; “If the city government is truly committed to Mampang residents in this project, it needs to provide compensation for damaged property, new housing and a continuing, open, honest dialogue with the people.”

Read the full 2006 HRW report on Jakarta’s forced evictions here.

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