All 506 affordable apartments under National Housing Development Corporation Limited’s (NHDCL) ‘affordable housing project’ in Phuentsholing will be allotted to Bhutanese living across the border by next month.

NHDCL officials, during the inauguration of the first 20 buildings yesterday, said the flats would be allotted through a lucky draw to ensure the allotment is fair and transparent.

Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay inaugurated the buildings and Tsugla lopon Samten Dorji, finance minister Namgay Dorji, and other dignitaries attended the function.

Officials said that after the allotment next month, the 20 buildings with 160 units inaugurated yesterday would be immediately provided for occupancy. The remaining 346 units from 42 buildings would be provided to tenants by November this year as and when they are ready.

The affordable housing project started in July 2016 as envisaged by His Majesty The King to address the acute shortage of affordable houses in Phuentsholing.

There are 62 buildings with 506 units at 10 different locations. The government provided Nu 890 million (M) for the project.

Chief executive officer (CEO) of NHDCL, Thinley Dorji, said the timely completion of the building inaugurated yesterday was possible with the support from the government, Phuentsholing thromde, and various other agencies.

He said they are doing a physical verification of Bhutanese living across the border by visiting the houses and authenticating with various records from Phuentsholing drungkhag, thromde, and Bhutan population and housing census data.

“The number of families derived from the verification would come for the lucky draw,” Thinley Dorji said.

Starting July 19, 2016, until January this year, about 1,259 people have applied for the flats. “However, some have left and moved to different places,” the CEO said.

The 160 units inaugurated yesterday are classified as category four and three. Each flat in both the categories has two bedrooms, a living room, and a kitchen. However, the category three apartment has two toilets, while category four has one.

Rents for the apartment ranges from Nu 4,000 to Nu 7,000 depending on the sizes of the rooms that vary from 500 sq.ft to 700sq.ft and 950 sq.ft.

According to NHDCL officials, the apartments provided at affordable rent would actually cost Nu 14,000 to Nu 15,000 a month in the market. “Bhutanese living across the border pay about Nu 5,000 on average,” Thinley Dorji said.

He also said that even quality wise, the flats are of standard.

Meanwhile, the second phase of the project, which has about 136 units would be completed by September. The third phase that has 210 units would be completed in November this year.

The housing crisis is one of the biggest problems in Phuentsholing.

Many businessmen from across the border having business in Phuentsholing also occupy spaces in Phuentsholing and use them as stores.

As people who can afford are ready to pay up the exorbitant amount, rents are inflated and are not affordable for average Bhutanese families.

Most Bhutanese living across the border are people from lower income, who cannot afford inflated rents in Phuentsholing. They are today living in Chinese Lane, Baubazaar, and Manglabarey across the border.

Lack of space is another problem in Phuentsholing. However, with the local area plan completed, many private developers have started to construct houses.

Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing