Inside Rusunawa Marunda – The realities of slum relocation & social housing

News of slum dwellers perishing when their informal homes along river banks are swept away during the rainy season have been getting quite common in parts of Indonesia. The potential devastation of heavy rainfall and the breaking of the dam along the Pluit River prompted the relocation of slum dwellers to a safer, dignified accommodation.

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Slum dwellings along the Pluit River
Slum dwellings built of stilts, wood, and aluminium sheets along Pluit River. This was where most of the residents in rusunawa Marunda lived in

Relocation projects are however, never a simple case of pack-and-go. There are many barriers to moving slum dwellers somewhere else – they do not know where they are moving to and how the move can benefit them; they often have to pay (sometimes higher) rent if they move to government rental flats; they’ll be located far away from job opportunities; there is a need for the people to adapt to a new way of life, and community.


The new location is in Marunda, North Jakarta. There are several blocks slated as rental flats for low income households but have been left vacant for years due to mismanagement and misuse by the bodies in charge.

It took much persuasion in the form of bringing groups of slum dwellers personally by car (Ahok did so personally) to the site to check out the houses with their own eyes, discussing, convincing and sharing potential livelihood opportunities for the people in the new housing estate. In 2013, the first residents moved out of their dingy slum dwellings to the apartments in Marunda.

Mdm Erna [not her real name] used to work at a farm, tending to the chickens and other livestock for her employer near Pluit River. She has been living in a dingy house over the past 30 years but not anymore. Today, she is one of the residents who have relocated to rusunawa Marunda as part of the Jakarta’s ex-governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama’s plan to clean up the Pluit River area, and to offer the slum dwellers better quality and safe housing.

Mdm Erna is now working as a cleaner for the estate. It is a good job, but she says that it needs some getting used to.

Mdm Erna taking a break at the void deck of her flat

More than just housing people, a good rusunawa (low-cost rental apartment complex) should provide adequate social and economic support for residents, many of whom have never lived in apartments, and are also now located further away from their places of employment and residence.

Rusunawa Marunda is a good case study of how public-private partnerships are necessary to meet the needs of residents in healthcare, education, skills training, job-creation, and also importantly, to feel a sense of belonging to a new community and space.

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Recreational spaces are found throughout the compound – probably too hot for a game of football at the time this picture was taken

Today, there are 4 clusters of apartment blocks spread over 2500 hectares that is housing 2500 families – approximately 6000 residents. Each of these clusters is a self-sustainable ecosystem of mama-shops, laundromat, a co-op, urban farm, pre-school 24/7 healthcare centre, wet markets & food stalls, everything needed to thrive and survive.

The co-op of rusunawa Marunda
Market space where fresh produce can be sold & bought

We were brought on a guided walking tour of the big compound to see for ourselves the variety of enterprises and the quality of healthcare and education facilities in the complex, and the overall improvements made in the quality of life of residents who used to live in slum dwellings along Pluit River and in the Kalijodo red-light district. [thanks Sandi from MEEK Foundation for your time!]

Each household were allotted a 2-bedroom apartment [30 square metre], with an attached toilet and kitchen area.

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Walls as a great space for children’s creativity


The void deck of each block is a space for the community to learn, to work, receive healthcare, and to catch up with friends, and make new ones.

Residents are allowed to start new businesses in the complex. The diversity of resident-owned enterprises is symbolic of the resilience, creativity, and genius of the people. The provision of livelihood opportunities is essential for the people’s dignified living and also to effectively capitalise on the people’s skills and talents.

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(shy) uncle selling Baso at the market
Variety of resident-owned enterprises around the estate

Private-public partnerships are seen in the social businesses set up in the complex. Hotels donate used bed sheets for this enterprise that turns them into beautiful products which are then re-purchased by hotels.

Women in the community are given the opportunity to receive training in shibori dyeing, batik painting, and sewing techniques. When they’ve successfully completed the training, they will be hired to work full time, receiving wages that are much higher than the work they’ve done before.

Batik printing enterprise
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Mr Rofii, the person-in-charge of rusunawa Marunda, & Mdm Narie, trainer for the shibori dyeing and sewing enterprise

The issue however, is that some of the women are inconsistent in reporting for training and work. Over a hundred women registered for training but only 10 completed the training and are fully employed now. The mindset change and discipline of the people is a struggle that cannot be changed overnight.

There is also a upcycling enterprise led by a very enterprising lady that turns wastes into new products. Here is Mr Rofii with them.

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Basic needs of education and healthcare are met through schools and clinics provided for with a small fee, or free, depending on the financial needs of the households. One key improvement over the years is the efficiency and quality of medical facilities.

At the beginning, the clinic was only 50 metres square with one doctor. The low doctor to patient, and nurse to patient ratio led to the deaths of many children from preventable diseases and treatable injuries; and also maternal deaths.

Today, the clinic is six times larger than before, and remains open 24/7. Family planning facilities are introduced, with encouragement for families to stop at two children. Infant mortality rate has fallen drastically with these provisions. To date, 250 babies are born in the new facilities – a feat that Mr Rofii is extremely proud of.

It took many years of dedication for the housing project to reach the point it is at today. When the residents first moved in, there was a general sense of resentment and an attitude of blame toward the government and MEEK Foundation for relocating them to Marunda – so far out from where they used to reside in. They saw that the provision of services and jobs are the responsibility of the government, not their own.

But, the staff from MEEK Foundation kept coming back, providing many opportunities for learning, and job-matching. For e.g. they provided training for men in the estate to become Go-Jek and GrabCar drivers, computer classes for residents, baking workshops for women interested to work in the food industry. Community engagement events were often organised with the vision to build a tight-knit, cohesive, safe and neighbourly community.

The persistence of the people in MEEK Foundation opened up the hearts and minds of the residents to give rusunawa Marunda a chance, and to persist toward a better quality of life for themselves.

One of the key struggles right now is in ensuring sustainable and adequate employment opportunities for the residents. In the upcoming TBN Asia Conference in Jakarta, Actxplorer will be organising an impact trip for interested delegates to Marunda. Click on the link to book a space!

It is an opportunity for exploring partnerships to serve the community in Marunda. Private organisations may be able to explore outsourcing part of your work to Marunda; Skilled individuals may consider conducting skills-based workshop for residents to increase employability; for anyone to gain a deeper insight into the complexities and importance of providing a holistic, safe, and enriching environment for low-income, least advantaged communities.

The trip to Marunda has given me much deeper insights into social housing which I’ve only read about, especially through speaking directly with the residents, and being on the ground immersing in the sights, smells, and soundscapes of Marunda.

The end of, here’s a video of a hand-powered ferris wheel for little kids in Marunda 🙂

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