Friday 20 September 2013

Temporary flats scheme extended to more groups: Parenthood Provisional Housing Scheme (PPHS)

Rental flats now open to divorced, widowed parents with children
By Daryl Chin, The Straits Times, 19 Sep 2013

THE Housing Board yesterday expanded its temporary housing scheme to include more families needing an affordable place to stay while waiting for their new flats to be ready.

Divorced and widowed parents with children can now apply, along with married and soon-to-be-wed couples in which one partner is a second-timer.

But engaged couples, who make up more than half of the first-time applicants for new flats, need to produce their marriage certificate within three months of moving into their temporary home.

Before this, the Parenthood Provisional Housing Scheme (PPHS) was open only to married couples who are first-timers, and only after they signed the lease agreement, which could take a few months. Now, those eligible can apply for the scheme straight after they book their new flat, and can do so online.

An HDB spokesman said the changes were a response to calls from the groups for temporary shelter, although the number who will benefit will depend on the families' "urgency for alternative housing".

A divorcee who wanted to be known only as Ms Chua said she had been writing in to HDB for concessions in the past few years.

The 38-year-old secretary and her 10-year-old son are waiting for their four-room Build-To-Order flat to be ready in 2017. They currently squeeze into a three-room condominium in Bedok with her grandmother, mother, brother and his wife.

Her monthly salary of $3,000 disqualifies her from public rental flats with their income cap of $1,500. But she also could not afford to rent a flat near her mother on the open market, since it would cost her most of her wages.

"These changes are more humane than just putting out a one-size-fits-all policy," she said.

Ms Chua can now apply for the PPHS flats, mostly three- to five-roomers in projects in Ang Mo Kio, Boon Lay, Bedok and Dover, which have been vacated for future redevelopment.

The flats, which come with basic fittings, cost between $800 and $1,900 a month - as much as 40 per cent below market rate.

The scheme was originally meant to support marriage and parenthood, as many had griped that not having a room of their own made starting a family hard.

Since its launch in January, 327 married couples have applied, said the National Development Ministry, leaving about 800 flats vacant.

The take-up rate could indicate two things, said property firm SLP International's head of research Nicholas Mak.

The rental price could still be too high for some couples, who make do with living in relatives' homes. Or the needs of these married couples who are first-timers have been met. "Now it's clear that the Government is also moving in to take care of other disadvantaged groups," he said.

Couples welcome cheaper temp rental flat option
HDB policy tweak hailed but price is still a deterrent factor for some
By Daryl Chin And Charissa Yong, The Straits Times, 21 Sep 2013

COUPLES who have yet to marry but are already waiting for their new flats to be built welcome the policy tweak that would allow them to rent a cheaper flat.

But many told The Straits Times that they are not rushing into a decision as the financial costs might outweigh benefits of privacy and space.

On Wednesday, the HDB expanded the eligibility of the Parenthood Provisional Housing Scheme to include engaged couples. These couples are now allowed to rent a vacated flat, at about 40 per cent cheaper than the market rate, in locations like Ang Mo Kio, Boon Lay, Bedok and Dover.

But they must produce their marriage certificate within three months of moving in.

Some, like software engineer Kelvin Chen, 27, said the move is a boon. He now stays with his parents and sister in a five-roomer in Choa Chu Kang. He is getting married next year and is waiting for a four-room flat in the same town to be completed in 2017.

"Once we get married and my wife moves in, it might get a little congested in the mornings, especially the bathrooms and kitchen," he said.

But the price, even subsidised, is a factor that could hold back many couples, said industry watcher Chris Koh.

For instance, the monthly rental rate for a four-room Bedok unit is $1,200. Over a three-year period, this adds up to over $40,000.

"These are en bloc flats, and although refurbished, are typically about 30 years old. But such an option is still far more feasible than renting from the open market, given that their locations are good," he said.

Soon-to-be-married couples The Straits Times spoke to were keenly aware of the expenses looming in their near future, such as renovation bills. They said that even at the subsidised rate, the rental payments would be put to better use servicing a home loan.

Marketing and operations executive Jonah Chew, 27, said he will consider renting such a flat after he gets married next year - but not before. "I will save the cash for the wedding. If the rent is lower, it would be more helpful for young couples like us," said Mr Chew, whose Punggol flat will be ready a year after his wedding.

Other couples like 25-year-old marketing executive Mohamed Khalil and his fiancee are not keen on moving in together before marriage.

"We are still very traditional at heart, and pushing forward our marriage date just to rent a place is not the most romantic thing to do," he said.

Sociologist Paulin Straughan said the tweaked policy would cater to young couples with urgent housing needs but priced out of the open market. She recalled that such concerns, coupled with the waiting time for a flat, were reasons some couples gave for not starting families sooner.

Ms Lee Bee Wah, chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for National Development, said that "alleviating the woes of young couples who want to set up their own families, but feel constrained by the lack of space and privacy at home" was at the scheme's core.

Although latest figures show only 327 married couples have taken up these flats so far, Mrs Straughan added that "this is still a good option to have".

"The more barriers you lift, the easier it is for some young couples to form families," she said.

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