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HDB's reply reveals more worrying information. Leong Sze Hian.

HDB’s reply on flats for foreigners – a conflict of interest?

Leong Sze Hian

In my letter to the Today newspaper titled, “A precious resource”,  I had asked why two blocks of flats in Toa Payoh were being reserved for rental to foreign workers from the two Integrated Resorts (IRs). I had said that HDB flats, being public housing - a precious, limited resource, and much in demand - should only be reserved for Singaporeans.

The HDB replied to my letter in Today titled, “Priority given to truly needy”.

The HDB’s reply states:

“The flats cited by Mr Leong Sze Hian are vacated flats due for demolition.  In the interim, they are being used for short-term rental”.

This does not address the point that I was trying to make in my letter, which was why thousands of needy Singaporeans have to wait for more than a year before they are able to rent a flat, when these IR foreign workers can rent upon their arrival in Singapore.

Shouldn’t these “vacated flats due for demolition”, which were vacated by Singaporeans in the first place under SERS (Selected En-bloc Redevelopment Scheme) and “being used for short-term rental”, be given to needy Singaporeans instead of foreign workers?

Also, why does it take so long (two years) to demolish flats under the SERS programme?

Who is the HDB, whose mission, duty and responsibility, is to provide affordable public housing to Singaporeans, to arbitrarily decide that these flats are not suitable for needy Singaporeans, but suitable for foreign workers?

For every flat rented to foreign workers, there may be needy Singaporeans deprived of it and are living and being homeless at a beach park somewhere in Singapore.

The HDB says that “Mr Leong alleged that foreign workers pay much less than Singapore citizens when they rent flats.” The reality is that Singaporeans have to pay at least $400 to rent a room, compared to these foreign workers who pay as low as $140.

Even under the HDB’s Interim Housing Programme, designed to help needy Singaporeans who cannot get a HDB rental flat, rental starts from $400 a month to share a flat, as I understand it.

If EM Services, the HDB’s managing agent or the HDB itself  starts advertising to rent out these two blocks in Toa Payoh to Singaporeans who are willing to share a room/flat, I think they may be taken up in no time.

The fact is that there is no rental scheme available to Singaporeans to rent a shared room/flat from $140 in the open market.

According to EM Services’ web site, it was founded as a joint venture between the HDB and Keppel Land Limited.

Is there a possible conflict of interest?

The HDB’s letter says:

“EM Services Pte Ltd, HDB’s managing agent, rents these vacated flats at prevailing market rates with no special rental concession or subsidies.  Current market rent is about $1,500 per month for each flat”.

The HDB also says:

On the other hand, HDB provides highly-subsidised rental flats under the Public Rental Scheme to eligible Singapore citizens, with rents as low as $26 per month.

Clearly, one would make more money renting the flats for $1,500 than renting it for $26 under subsidised HDB rental schemes.

The HDB should not on the one hand be the sole provider of rental flats to needy Singaporeans, and yet also at the same time have an interest in a company that rents HDB flats to foreigners for a profit.

With regards to the HDB’s statement that “[those] who are assessed to require housing urgently are given priority allocation”, why are foreign workers given priority over Singaporeans for these two blocks of flats?

HDB says that it “will be building 7,500 units of new one-room and two-room subsidised rental flats in the next three years to cater to Singapore citizens who are in financial difficulties.” Is this not an admission by the HDB that many more Singaporeans are in financial difficulties in respect of housing, despite its consistent rhetoric that HDB flats are affordable? (“80% pay flats with CPF”, ST, Jan 13).

There were:

-          30,770 HDB loans in arrears over three months as of September 2009,

-          An estimated 50,000 plus in arrears over three months in their Service and Conservancy Charges (S & CC)

-          About 77,200 households in arrears on their television licence fees which is only $110 a year (“Why viewers must pay fees on time”, Today, Jan 5).

Looking at the above statistics, is it any wonder that despite more than 40,000 rental flats now, another 7,500 will be built in the next three years?

The HDB should have built more rental flats much earlier, so that Singaporeans do not have to be so angry now over this issue of HDB flats being rented out to foreigners.

The HDB says:

“Mr Leong also alleged that foreign workers do not have to wait when they rent a flat, but Singapore citizens do.  This is also misleading and untrue.  The facts cited by Mr Leong are no different from flats available for open market rental.”

If what the HDB says is true, it should tell us where and how a Singaporean can rent a flat for $140.

The fact is indisputable that these foreign workers get a flat to stay upon their arrival in Singapore, whereas thousands of Singaporeans are waiting to rent HDB flats.

The HDB then asserts:

“Any person, Singapore citizen or otherwise, can also rent similar flats from the open market without waiting.”

Can the HDB please give us a listing of such “similar flats” in the open market which are being rented out for $140?

Instead of saying that “Mr Leong’s friend can contact HDB for advice on housing options if he is truly in financial difficulties”, may I suggest that the HDB go and ask the homeless who are currently staying at places such as the parks in Singapore?

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