Sunday, 29 August 2021

More Housing Board projects to integrate rental flats, improving inclusivity

By Michelle Ng, The Straits Times, 29 Aug 2021

More integrated Housing Board blocks that mix rental and purchased flats are in the pipeline, as they provide the opportunity to enhance inclusiveness within housing estates, said Minister of State for National Development Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim.

Around 1,300 public rental flats now under construction across Singapore will be progressively completed by 2025, said Associate Professor Faishal, who is also Minister of State for Home Affairs, in an interview with The Straits Times.

Some of these will be in four integrated blocks spread across three Build-To-Order (BTO) projects, the latest being McNair Heights in Kallang/Whampoa launched in February this year.

Two integrated blocks are in Costa Grove in Pasir Ris, launched in August last year, while one is in Fernvale Glades in Sengkang, launched in November 2017.

"We're ramping up the building of rental flats and increasingly, we're using the interspersed method, where rental flats are mixed with owned flats in an HDB block," said Prof Faishal.

"It brings the level of interaction to a higher level, but we should take the opportunity to enhance inclusiveness while managing the differences in social demographics of the residents."

Currently, there are two such integrated blocks in two BTO projects - one in West Plains @ Bukit Batok and another in Marsiling Greenview in Woodlands.

As at last year, there are around 62,000 rental flats. Not all are occupied, but Prof Faishal said there is a need to continue to ramp up supply of public rental flats.

"A home is important, so having a steady stock on hand will help us provide options to those who need them. There'll be a certain segment of the population, such as low-income seniors, who will need a rental home and we don't want to deprive them of that."

Monthly rent starts from $26 for a one-room unit for those earning $800 or less, and goes up to $275 for a two-room flat for those earning between $801 and $1,500.

The three hallmarks of Singapore's public housing policy are affordability, inclusivity and accessibility, which is uniquely different from some big cities where there is "clear demarcation in the profile of people who live in certain areas", he added. This is why the Government plans to build rental flats in prime areas such as the future Greater Southern Waterfront.

"We'll make sure that the facilities we build there can cater to different needs, and people from all walks of life can go to school and the markets together," he said.

Nonetheless, rental flats are meant to be interim housing for families who may need more time to get their career, family and financial planning sorted out, he said.

The goal is to support as many families as possible to move from rental housing to home ownership in a "realistic and sustainable way", Prof Faishal said.

About 4,600 families in public rental homes have become home owners of HDB flats over the past five years through various housing schemes and grants.

By 2023, around 1,000 families will be offered help to do the same.

Prof Faishal lived in a two-room rental flat in Marine Terrace, from the time he was seven to the age of 11. His family had moved there from a kampung in Joo Chiat Place in the mid-70s. After four years, his parents bought a three-room HDB flat in Bedok South, where he and his three siblings lived for the next 10 years.

"We were not the richest, but my parents always invited people to come over for meals. They worked hard to climb the ladder of home ownership to bring better lives to their children," he said.

"I recognise that today's landscape of how and why people live in rental flats may be different from my situation in the past, but I hope many more can experience the journey to achieving home ownership like my parents did."

Experts say mixing rental, purchased flats in same block will bring benefits
By Michelle Ng and Isabelle Liew, The Straits Times, 29 Aug 2021

When Madam Arsalinah Mohamed Arsad moved into her two-room rental flat at Marsiling Greenview in 2018, she thought the Housing Board had given her the wrong address.

"Rental flats don't typically look like this. There's a store room and wrought iron gates. I thought, this can't be true - it felt like I was moving into a flat I owned," the 42-year-old part-time cleaner told The Sunday Times.

Her block - Block 182A in Woodlands Street 13 - is one of two completed integrated blocks that mix both rental and purchased flats. It is located in the Marsiling Greenview Build-To-Order (BTO) project.

The other is Block 468B at West Plains @ Bukit Batok, although all 35 rental units on levels 2 to 8 were vacant when ST visited on Saturday.

The Ministry of National Development said that rental households are expected to move in within this year.

The rental units have the same exterior and are indistinguishable from the purchased flats. On each level, five out of 13 units are rental flats. Most of the owned units in the integrated block were occupied.

Sociologists interviewed said that such integrated blocks are a step in the right direction, although it must be paired with equal opportunities.

Singapore University of Social Sciences associate professor Leong Chan-Hoong said rental units are grouped with smaller housing types such as three-room flats, which is helpful.

"The contrast in housing status is less salient, and the residents' economic status is more comparable," he said.

National University of Singapore sociologist Tan Ern Ser said being in close proximity means increased opportunities for building neighbourly ties, although much depends if there are pre-existing prejudices before neighbours encounter one another.

Singapore Management University sociology professor Paulin Straughan said: "We hope that social support groups will form as friendships are forged, and those in poor circumstances will find strong support amongst their neighbours. In most cases, once friendships are established, the neighbours will look out for one another."

The experience of living outside rental clusters could also spur young rental households to aspire towards home ownership, she said.

For Madam Arsalinah, who lives with her husband and two secondary school-aged children, the integrated block is a far cry from Buangkok, where she lived in a one-room rental flat for eight years.

"There was lots of quarrelling, drug cases, and urine in the lift. It's not a safe environment for my kids. So far, there is none of that here," she said, adding that her only gripe was high-rise littering.

While those in rental flats expressed largely positive sentiments, opinions were mixed among those living in purchased flats in the same blocks.

Mr Rafi Yacob, 32, a technician who lives in a three-room purchased flat in Woodlands, said that he could not wait to move out when he completes the minimum occupation period in two years.

"It's not a good environment for my kids. The police always go to the rental units because of noise or quarrels between neighbours," he said.

Retired marine claims adjuster Tina Chua, 66, who lives in a two-room purchased unit with her husband, said she greets her rental neighbours in the lift lobby.

"The rental families come and go, but it doesn't matter to us. Those who aren't civic conscious aren't limited to a certain type of flat," she said.


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