• Meeting with Jakarta Property Institute / Photo: Dian Tri Irawaty

  • Meeting at Kampung Kunir / Photo: Dian Tri Irawaty

  • Meeting with Mayor of North and West Jakarta / Photo: Dian Tri Irawaty

Dian Tri Irawaty, Ph.D. candidate in geography, reports on how her research on grassroots movements for housing rights in Jakarta and the communities around her have been affected by COVID-19.

By Dian Tri Irawaty
Dian Tri Irawaty received an Indonesian Studies Travel Grant for Summer 2019 to conduct research.


My research focuses on the grassroots movement for housing rights in Jakarta in the last fifteen years. I am analyzing the evolution in the strategies implemented by grassroots organizations in their struggle for security of land tenure. For the past four months in the field, I have interviewed 16 research participants, consisting of 12 activists and 4 kampung (village) residents. I have attended multiple meetings related to the advocacy of alternative design and housing cooperatives and with government officials.

I am paying close attention to Kampung Aquarium in North Jakarta and Kampung Kunir in West Jakarta since eviction in 2015 and 2016 respectively. Soon after the evictions, kampung residents in both locations returned to the site and fought for the right to stay. Through a long advocacy process, kampung residents, who organized under an Urban Poor Network (JRMK), were able to reclaim the land and secure a temporary shelter built by the local government.

Grassroots Strategies

The fight for the security of tenure has engendered different strategies. During the governor election in 2017, residents in both kampungs engaged in a "political contract" with the candidate running for governor. JRMK organized votes from the urban poor in an exchange for a pledge from the candidate to enact favorable urban policies for poor communities if elected. After he was voted into office, the Governor has been issuing relevant policies aimed at fulfilling his political promises.

With the Governor’s Decree no. 878/2018 and Governor's Decree no. 90/2018, the government in Jakarta started to renovate the kampungs and improve the infrastructure through the Community Action Plan (CAP) and Collaborative Implementation Program (CIP). These programs not only benefited the 16 kampungs who signed the political contract, but also an additional 445 slum neighborhood in Jakarta. The Governor also issued decrees related expanding provision of basic services in the kampungs, such as water.

In collaboration with NGOs, universities, and architects, residents in Kampung Aquarium have been advocating for rebuilding their kampung over moving to public housing. But the bureaucratic process of filing permits and reports with government agencies has taken a toll on the residents. Furthermore, a scheduled groundbreaking for reconstruction was halted. Knowing that the groundbreaking is unlikely to proceed due to lack of coordination among the agencies, Kampung Aquarium residents and Rujak Center for Urban Studies (RCUS), serving as a technical advisor, presented an alternative concept to the Governor. The new concept for their kampung focuses on urban design that accommodates their daily needs with multi-purpose spaces. The Governor agreed to support the construction of Kampung Aquarium to begin in June 2020and finish by November 2020.

Meanwhile, residents in Kampung Kunir is in the process of securing a site to rebuild their kampung. Residents recognize that it will be an uphill battle even if they follow the steps and strategies of Kampung Aquarium. Working with Architecture Sans Frontieres (ASF), they have proposed an alternative design of their kampung to the local government.

Community Response to the Pandemic

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, advocacy has been postponed for the most part. The grassroots movements have been affected economically by the pandemic due to the semi-lockdown and the closing of many business centers, tourism sites and entertainment spots, which have become important sources of income for the informal sectors. Beyond the economic setbacks, the urban poor also need to protect themselves from the coronavirus. To maintain their health and improve their immunity, the urban poor have been working collectively to produce affordable hand sanitizers and herbal drinks to help prevent the spread of the virus. Through collaboration with their networks in Yogyakarta, the urban poor bought the supply of herbal drinks and distributed it along with the hand sanitizer to 16 kampungs under JRMK.

One of the grassroots activists, Gugun Mohammad, has recently raised funds through an online fundraising platform. He collected more than $15,000 rupiah to be distributed to 800 families in 20 kampungs to cover 14 days of living expenses to encourage these families to stay home. Soon afterward, Mohammad and JRMK expanded their efforts in increasing food security for the urban poor by connecting them with rice suppliers — local farmers in Kendeng, Central Java. The program was able to support 900 households, connect the urban poor with the rural poor and prioritize fair trade practices.

Field Research during COVID-19

Before the pandemic, I had a list of interviewers and a research plan set up for the next few months. Unfortunately, all those plans have been postponed or shifted in terms of methodology. Conducting an in-depth interview and practicing participatory observation are difficult during the pandemic, where physical distancing is required for public health safety. As a result, I used the work from home period in Jakarta to collect documents on policies and regulations related to my research topic. I am continuing to participate in Zoom meetings with the activists and government offices and attend public events that specifically address the issue of housing rights.

I attempted to conduct interviews through Zoom. However, the respondents (kampung residents, government agencies, and activists) have limited capacities at this time. With the government’s attention fully focused on combating the pandemic and its impact, officials cannot prioritize interviews with researchers. Scheduling an online interview with kampung residents was also problematic since I know that they face mounting stress due to the pandemic and loss of income. I do not want to put them in a hard position in making such requests. However, activists have surprisingly been receptive to Zoom interviews. So far, I have interviewed four activists during the pandemic. I will schedule more interviews with a strong emphasis on their physical and mental conditions.


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Published: Monday, June 1, 2020