During Parliament last month, National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan addressed several issues related to HDB’s (Housing Development Board) Public Rental Scheme, or PRS. This includes the ethnic quotas and waiting time for public rental flats. Mr Khaw reveals that HDB is reviewing its ethnic quotas for these flats. “Currently, 60 per cent of its rental blocks have reached the limit allowed for Malay residents, which is 25 per cent per block,” said Mr Khaw. In multiracial Singapore, public housing houses 80% of the population, thus an Ethnic Integration Policy (EIP) for public housing was implemented to ensure a balanced mix of the racial groups in each block and estate in order to maintain racial harmony and social cohesion. Separately, Mr Khaw reveals that the waiting time for rental flats is six months on average. But he hopes this will shorten after HDB introduces more of these flats. HDB aims to have 57,000 units ready by 2015 (“2,000 More Rental Flats for Lower-income Families”). At present, there are 49,300 units of one-and two-room public rental flats, an increase from the 45,500 two years ago. The six-month queue time is also an improvement from that of 2008. Back then, queue time could be as long as 21 months when demand peaked. Meyer Mansion Condo
Adding to the number of rental accommodation are two blocks of flats close to the now-defunct Tanjong Pagar rail station. These former dormitories, at Spooner Road, which once housed the staff of the rail station, will be spruced up and offered to low-income Singaporeans under the PRS and Interim Rental Housing (IRH) scheme. 208 one- and two-room units will be leased out under PRS, while 110 three-room flats will come under the IRH scheme (“Spooner Rd Flats Available for HDB Rental”). As of December 2011, 1,500 households are under the IRH scheme. Both PRS and IRH are for financially needy Singaporeans as rental are heavily subsidised. For PRS, it is administrated by HDB with only one- and two-room units being offered. Rentals vary between S$26 and S$275. Applicants, with a gross household income not exceeding S$1,500, can apply for the flats under the Family Scheme or Joint Singles Scheme, subject to fulfillment of other requirements. On the other hand, IRH, is a temporary option for Singaporeans in urgent need of housing. They maybe waiting to buy a HDB flat, queuing for a rental unit or waiting out a 30-month debarment period before applying for a rental unit. Under current rule, after selling a HDB flat, former owners are not allowed to apply for a rental unit until 30 months have lapsed.
IRH began in 2009 and was ran by private operators like EM Services, LHN Group and the Katong Hostel. It worked as a cross-model in which the operators lease the flats from HDB and rent out a number of them at subsidised rates to IRH tenants, with the rest being rented out at open market rates. Often, two households will co-share an IRH three-room flat. Following a review in 2011, HDB enhanced IRH by introducing three changes in December that year. First, the role of private operators is being limited to the management of these flats. Second, the tenancy period is extended from six to twelve months, renewable for up to two years. Finally, guidelines are drawn up to ensure better matching of co-tenants (“Govt to Tweak Interim Rental Housing Scheme”). Disputes between co-tenants in IRH flats are common. MPs often see IRH residents requesting for a change of co-tenant during their Meet-the-People sessions. Under this scheme, a tiny three-room unit is shared by two families, sometimes large ones, couple that with the different living habits of the two households and strained relationships result. Other concerns include safety issues related to living with complete strangers. The cramped living space also causes some voices to grouse about the lack of a conducive study environment for children living in IRH flats.