Homelessness may not be a transitional problem for some in Singapore.

Do you want me to stay at the beach?

“Do you want me to stay at the beach?” retorted Jacob, when the officer from Housing and Development Board (HDB) informed him a few days ago that he would soon have to vacate the place he has been calling his home for the last one year at Havelock Road – a flat allotted to him under the HDB’s Interim Housing Programme.

Jacob (not his real name), is a government servant and draws a gross salary of $1150.  His take-home pay is less than $700 after the various deductions for CPF, personal loans, etc.

Sally, Jacob’s wife recounts that they sold their flat in December 2006, because they could not afford to service the mortgage with the earnings of just Jacob.

“I have got a medical condition and have fainting spells.  That is the reason why I cannot hold down a job”, says Sally.  Sally claims that to add to her medical condition, she has been losing a lot of weight recently, but do not have the money to see the doctor for a proper diagnosis.

Together, Jacob and Sally have 3 children.  Their daughter, 22 who was employed as a contract worker by the National Library Board, was recently not re-hired when her contract expired 4 months into the job.  She has not been able to find another job, despite going for numerous interviews.

Their 21 year old son is doing his national service and another 14 year old son is in secondary school.

HDB gave them a loan of $45,000 to buy another flat, when they sold their flat, but Jacob and Sally could not buy another flat with that for the combined amount in their CPF was less than $140,000 and there are no resale flats in the market for $185,000.  Even if there were, they could not afford the high Cash Over Valuation (COV) such flats commanded.

They appealed to HDB for a higher quantum of loan and HDB upped their loan amount to $60,000.  But even with close to $200,000 now available to purchase a HDB flat, they are not able to secure a resale flat from the open market.

“All the property agents we went to, said that they cannot help us unless we had at least $20,000 COV”, says Sally.

“Only recently it crossed our mind that we should probably give up buying our own house and start applying for a rental flat from HDB”, continues Sally.  “But to do that I must make sure that our family income does not increase to be more than $1500, and still we have to wait for about 1½ years before we are allotted a flat”.

Jacob claims that the HDB officer seeking to evict him from their Interim Housing flat was very rude to him when he called them to discuss their need for proper accommodation.

“She kept insisting that the agreement for interim housing was only for a period of 6 months and that they have extended their agreement by another 6 months. But where does she want us to go now?” he asks.

Jacob and Sally pay about $360 per month as rental to EM Services for their flat under the interim housing programme.

Jacob and his wife Sally who have been homeless for about 4 years and have stayed in various places from the room rentals in the open market, to homes of relatives, to shelters are truly at their wits end.

“There is no one to help us”, cries Sally.  “We have been to see the MP (Member of Parliament) Lily Neo, but all she said was that she would appeal for us to CDC (Community Development Council) for financial assistance and to HDB about our case. But it is really hopeless, why is nobody helping us? Who will rent a room for a family of five in Singapore? Even if they rent, how can we afford the open market rental?” she weeps.

Contrary to what the government would have us believe, that the situation of all the homeless in Singapore is only transitional, in the sense that the families that are experiencing homelessness do so only for a short period given there is so much help in the community, anecdotal evidence like that of Jacob and Sally prove that it is no longer transitional but almost permanent – at least for some.

By: Ravi Philemon