Saturday, 9 March 2019

Older HDB rental blocks to get better ventilation, natural lighting

By Shabana Begum, The Straits Times, 8 Mar 2019

In the 1980s and 1990s, housewife Leong Lye Chan, 57, would squint hard while walking along the dark and gloomy corridors of the HDB block where she rents a flat.

She would perspire as she waited in the muggy corridors for her son after school.

In 2004, both ventilation and lighting at Madam Leong's Block 217 in Ang Mo Kio Avenue 1 improved significantly following changes made by the HDB.

Another rental block that was improved under the pilot programme was Block 1 in Holland Close.

Following the pilot, HDB will do the same at other older rental blocks built in the 1960s and 1970s in areas such as Bukit Merah, Kallang and Bedok.

These places house most of the older rental blocks, and the refurbishment will start in 2020.

Despite the tenants' positive feedback about the 2004 pilot, the works were not extended to other blocks in view of the rental demand and supply situation at the time, said an HDB spokesman.

A rental block typically has one-or two-room flats along both sides of the central corridor. Save for sunlight and wind sneaking into the corridor through open spaces at the lift and staircase landings, the rest of the corridor is mostly unlit.

To improve ventilation, HDB will create more openings along the corridors by removing some flats on each floor of the rental blocks, Senior Parliamentary Secretary for National Development Sun Xueling said yesterday.

The tenants living in the affected units will be moved to similar units in the same building or nearby rental blocks. "HDB will work closely with local organisations and the relevant agencies to ensure a smooth transition," she added.

Nationwide, HDB manages about 230 rental blocks, but lighting and ventilation improvements will be for blocks built in the 1960s and 1970s that have long corridors with flats on both sides, she said.

"We are looking to start preparation for the improvement works later this year," she added.

For Madam Leong's block, two columns of one-room flats were removed near both ends of the wide 10-storey block. Before the pilot, only the centre of the building had openings for air and light to enter.

Now, each floor is lined with 24 units, with two 5m-wide open spaces near the ends to facilitate cross-ventilation.

"Last time, the corridor was too dark. When people walked past us, we couldn't see them. Now, it is better because older people can see and hold the handrails while walking. It is also more airy," said Madam Leong, who has been living in her one-room flat for 32 years with her 31-year-old son.

Families also use the open spaces to dry their laundry, store their wheelchairs and bicycles, and chat with neighbours.

She added: "Every afternoon, I sit with my neighbours around a foldable table to chat about life and drink tea. Then, we return to our houses at 4pm to cook dinner for our families."

Lower-income families will get more help to have own homes
By Rachel Au-Yong, Housing Correspondent, The Straits Times, 8 Mar 209

Lower-income families will receive a lot more help in their home ownership journey, from getting grants to buy resale flats to a team of officers dedicated to monitoring their progress. In all, six MPs asked about ways to help this group, and yesterday, the Ministry of National Development unveiled an unprecedented slew of measures to uplift them.


Families who used to own their own HDB homes but are now living in rental flats will be entitled to the Step-Up CPF Housing Grant from May.

Before its expansion, the grant of $15,000 was for lower-income families to buy new three-room homes, but only if they already owned two-room flats.

With the change, families can also buy resale flats - not just Build-To-Order units - as long as they are in non-mature estates.

Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong, who made the announcement in Parliament yesterday, said the grant was expanded "because we want to do more to help these families move back to home ownership". He added that the number of families in rental flats who buy their own homes has nearly doubled in the last five years, from 700 in 2014 to 1,300 last year.

Some MPs, however, noted that the total number is relatively small: About 5,000 such families out of a total of 56,000 in the last six years.


Several improvements are being made to the 2016 Fresh Start Housing Scheme to help families with young children in rental flats buy a second HDB flat of their own.

Since December 2016, 74 families have joined the scheme.

This includes the setting up of an intensified support programme to help Fresh Start families stay on course in their journey to home ownership. A service provider appointed by the Ministry of Social and Family Development will run it.

"We have found through our experience that closer and more regular contact with families allows for early intervention to address issues that may emerge," said Senior Parliamentary Secretary Sun Xueling.

The programme is in addition to a new HDB team dedicated to spot and reach out to rental families who may be eligible to buy a home.

Another change is that "special consideration" will be given to selected families - who applied for Fresh Start but did not meet some of the criteria - to join. This would benefit about 80 families in the next three years, she said.

Also, to qualify for Fresh Start, the age limit requiring a family to have at least one child below age 16 will be raised to 18. Ms Sun did not say how many will benefit.

The new age limit will be applied as well to the Parenthood Priority Scheme and the Assistance Scheme for Second-Timers (Divorced/Widowed Parents).


The Housing Board will not raise rents for families who have made down payments and signed the leases to buy a home.

Typically, rents are reviewed every two years, and are tiered according to household income. "We hope this will put households in good stead for their next milestone as home owners," Ms Sun said.


The HDB will improve airflow and brightness of rental blocks built in the 1960s and 1970s, which typically have long central corridors with flats on both sides.

Also, tenants who share one-room rental flats, under the Joint Singles Scheme (JSS), will get greater privacy with the introduction of partitions.

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