Sunday 20 January 2013

'First-gen' hawkers worry about their future

Their 20-year stall leases will expire in 2014 and they may face high rent
By Chia Yan Min, The Straits Times, 19 Jan 2013

HAWKERS who paid for a 20-year lease on their stalls that will expire next year are worried about their future livelihoods and have met the authorities to discuss options.

Representatives from four affected hawker centres have had meetings with the National Environment Agency (NEA) - the latest of which occurred yesterday - to discuss the future management of these facilities, said Mr Teo Teck Ngee.

The 53-year-old is chairman of an association representing the hawkers at Block 207 New Upper Changi Road. The other centres are in West Coast Drive, Aljunied Avenue 2 and Ghim Moh Road.

The Straits Times understands that the leases - bought in 1994 - in these four food centres will expire in June next year.

Most of these "first-generation" stall owners took five- to 15-year loans.

About 20 to 30 original lease-holders in each centre continue to operate, stallholders said. The rest have resold the leases or sublet their stalls.

When the stall ownership reverts to the Government, these hawkers will have to pay rent. Hawkers said high rent may force some of them to quit.

This is a shame, said observers, noting that experienced hawkers are an asset to the food scene.

The Stall Ownership Scheme was launched at 15 centres, including Chomp Chomp Food Centre and Golden Mile Food Centre.

A total of 1,956 cooked food and market stalls in the 15 centres were sold in four phases between 1994 and 1997.

The cost ranged from $26,600 to $64,000 for a market produce stall, and $73,000 to $193,000 for a cooked food stall.

The scheme was halted during the economic downturn in 1998.

An NEA spokesman said refurbishments or redevelopments will be done at each centre when the leases expire, with the aim to run them on a not-for-profit basis.

The centre in New Upper Changi Road will be torn down, and a new one built nearby.

The spokesman said it is consulting stakeholders on appropriate models, including roping in social enterprises to manage the centres.

Hawkers in the affected centres are hoping for the best.

Mr Low Kerng Huat, 50, who sells chicken rice at Block 117 Aljunied Avenue 2, noted that stall owners in the centre who are subletting charge monthly rents from $1,500 to $2,000.

"We don't want to increase prices. Many old folk live around here and we have a lot of competition from nearby food centres," he added.

Madam Lim Choon Lan, 50, who runs a kway chap stall at the New Upper Changi Road centre, said: "Giving us lower rent is only being fair to us - we have been here for so long and we bought our stalls to run our own businesses, not for investment like some people do."

Ms Elim Chew, head of the Ministry of Environment and Water Resources' hawker consultation panel and founder of fashion label 77th Street, warned that if rents become too high, "we will lose all our authentic food".

Experienced hawkers, who have been around for a long time, might not be able to sustain their business, especially those who make their food by hand, she said.

Mr Danny Chong from the Hawkers' Association, who is also a member of the hawker consultation panel, agreed.

"Increasing rent by $1,000, for example, would be a lot to a small-time hawker," he noted.

Centres under Stall Ownership Scheme

- Block 207 New Upper Changi Road (lease expiring in June next year)
- Block 503 West Coast Drive (lease expiring in June next year)
- Block 117 Aljunied Ave 2 (lease expiring in June next year)
- Block 20 Ghim Moh Road (lease expiring in June next year)
- Block 453A Ang Mo Kio Ave 10
- Block 104/105 Yishun Ring Road
- Block 347 Jurong East Ave 1
- Golden Mile Food Centre
- Block 163 Bukit Merah Central Block 505 Jurong West Street 52
- Block 69 Geylang Bahru
- Chomp Chomp Food Centre
- Block 511 Bedok North Street 3
- Block 84 Marine Parade Central
- Pasir Panjang Food Centre

* 'Second-generation' hawkers can get subsidised rental too

WE THANK Mr Adam Tan for his views on the fundamental role that hawker centres play in Singapore ("Offer low rents to 'first-generation' hawkers"; last Tuesday).

Forty-two per cent of our current cooked food stallholders are "first-generation hawkers", that is, previous itinerant street hawkers who were resettled into hawker centres in the 1970s.

They pay heavily subsidised rental rates that range between $160 and $320 per month.

If they decide to retire, they are allowed to transfer their stalls to qualifying immediate family members, who continue to enjoy the same subsidised rental rates.

The other hawker stalls are tendered at market rates in the interest of fairness in allocation.

Since April last year, the National Environment Agency has removed reserve minimum rentals and disallowed subletting of stalls in order to eliminate property speculation.

This has resulted in falling rentals for new entrants - to as low as $5 in one case.

We share Mr Tan's observation that many of the first-generation hawkers are equipped with unique culinary skills that can be passed on to "hawkerpreneurs" who are new to the trade.

We welcome such initiatives to enable our hawker centres to remain a sustainable source of affordable food and a key part of our social infrastructure in the years ahead.

Richard Tan
Director, Hawker Centres Division
National Environment Agency
ST Forum, 28 Jan 2013

Offer low rents to 'first-generation' hawkers

HAWKER centres are fundamental institutions in the Singapore landscape ("'First-gen' hawkers worry about their future"; last Saturday).

They are a means of affordable food for the masses, offer meeting places for friends, and are living museums of our culture through the gastronomic gems that have been passed down through the years.

Many hawker centres even have their own fan base.

Just as importantly, they are a means of livelihood for hawkers.

For these reasons, I urge the Government to consider offering low rents for "first-generation" hawkers.

We are urging senior citizens to remain active and be economically independent. And there is obviously a need to get more hawkers to enter the industry, given the recent Youth Hawkerprise campaign to encourage young people who are entering the workforce to become "hawkerpreneurs" ("Super hawkers cause a stir"; last Saturday).

Becoming a hawker is hardly the career choice of young people today, given their higher levels of education and the fact that the job involves long hours doing what many consider to be menial tasks.

Extending low rents to "first-generation" hawkers would help maintain the supply of hawkers, keep these senior citizens gainfully employed, uphold our culinary culture and provide mentors from whom "hawkerpreneurs" can learn.

Adam Tan
ST Forum, 22 Jan 2013

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