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Jakarta Family Finds Housing Stability Is Costly

Ibu Mawar and her daughter. | Photograph by Christina Leigh Geros
Ibu Mawar and her youngest daughter, Amahbi. | Photograph by Christina Leigh Geros

RUSUN MARUNDA, Jakarta–Few know what it is like to watch years of hard work and memories be reduced to debris at the whim of a wrecking ball; but for many families in Jakarta, this is a regular reality.  Tweet this

Born in Central Java, Ibu Mawar*, 46, moved to Indonesia’s capital city with her parents when she was a young child. Regardless of the struggles of relocating and building a new life in the big city, she enjoyed a typical childhood living along the banks of the Cisadane River. While attending school and playing with friends, she dreamed of building her own family and home one day.  

After marrying her husband, they rented a room not far from her childhood home in a kampung (a term used to describe an informal settlement or village) along the river’s edge. Pak Ke, Ibu Mawar’s husband, found work in construction; she landed a position as a laborer in a nearby soap factory. They started a family and worked towards stability and comfort. Hard work and penny-pinching eventually paid off and they built their own house on the banks of the Cisadane River–better know as Banjir Kanal Barat.  

In 2001 the government evicted many people from their homes along the canal for improvements needed to help mitigate flood events in the city. Ibu Mawar’s family lost their home. With few options available, she and her husband decided to move themselves and their four children to another kampung right under the Tol Sedyatmoko–an elevated toll road that connects the city to the airport.

The homes under Tol Sedyatmoko are tucked under the infrastructure itself.
Tol Sedyatmoko traces the path of a riverbed through the city. Overflowing with refuse, the riverbed continues to flood regularly. The homes are tucked into the infrastructure itself. | Photograph and video by Christina Leigh Geros.

Life under the toll road was difficult. Under the control of preman–organized gangs–clean water and electricity were much more expensive. The family managed to survive by working odd jobs and scavenging, but due to the move and their increasingly unstable living conditions, holding down steady employment had become nearly impossible. While living with periodic flooding was not new, flood conditions under Tol Sedyatmoko were worse. With more days of flooding, the family made less money and the children missed more days of school.

Families sheltering under an elevated Jakarta road find life extremely challenging. Tweet this

Even under duress, Ibu Mawar and her family developed a routine and a sense of normalcy.

A few years after the move to Tol Sedyatmoko, the family welcomed a fifth child, their daughter Amahbi. Then in 2007 the family–with toddler in tow–were evicted again, the first of 15 evictions from under the toll road. After each demolition, they scrambled to rebuild their home under the road. With four children in school and no place else to go, they felt they had little option.

One month ago, Ibu Mawar moved to Rusun Marunda with Amahbi. The other four children stayed under the toll road with her husband so that they could remain in school and continue working. Rusun Marunda is in the northeast corner of the city. Remote and home to mainly low-income families, most residents cannot find enough ways to make ends meet. With traffic, it takes at least two hours, a train, and two buses to travel from there to the center of the city. Roundtrip, the cost of traveling is equivalent to a quarter of one month’s rent for Ibu Mawar.

Ibu Mawar’s husband tries to spend weekends at Rusun Marunda when he can. Though the choice to take the government’s offer of a room in the Rusun wasn’t easy, they are hoping it might offer a chance at a better life. She is hoping to earn enough money to not only keep the apartment, but to open a small warung (cafe) on the ground floor–hopefully earning enough money to support her family in one place.

As compensation for the evicted homes, qualifying citizens of Jakarta are offered a room in one of the city’s affordable housing complexes and three months of free rent. The heartache of having her family divided and the stress of making it beyond those 3 months is evident in the tears shed every time we speak.Tweet this Over the course of the next few months, I will be following Ibu Mawar and her family as they attempt to move forward at Rusun Marunda.

*All names have been changed to protect identities. 

Ibu Mawar’s story is part of a larger project on the city of Jakarta. To follow the full story you may also want to check out my previous blog posts:

It Takes Time. 

Drawing Out a City: The Basics.

Follow my daily explorations of Jakarta on Twitter and Instagram: @clgeros