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HDB flats – S’poreans come first?

Dear TOC,

While the government keeps saying “Singaporeans come first”, my experience in trying to have a house of my own shows me otherwise. In fact, being a Singaporean doesn’t mean you will automatically be able to have a home of your own.

I am single and above 35, the age at which you are allowed to purchase a HDB flat in the open market.

My journey to have a home of my own started there. However, with the soaring prices of flats and the insane level of COVs (cash-over-valuation), buying a flat in the open market is not an option for me anymore. I simply do not have so much money, especially to pay COVs which range between S$20,000 to S$50,000.

And so I approached the Housing and Development Board (HDB) and see if I could purchase a flat directly from it, which I have never done before. I thought it would also be cheaper.

HDB’s rules, however, says that as a single person, I do not qualify. The only way I will be able to do so is to have my mother’s name included in the application. (My father has since passed away.) And so, after reading about Minister Mah Bow Tan’s announcement that HDB will be building more flats this year, I approached the HDB to see if I could apply for a flat.

But this is where I met a roadblock which the HDB officer says disqualifies me from even buying a flat from the HDB.

You see, 30 years ago, my mother had purchased a flat from the HDB and received a HDB loan. At that time, my family was evicted from the kampongs because the land was being acquired by the government for redevelopment. So, it wasn’t exactly a choice my parents had. In any case, my family needed a place to stay and so my parents bought a HDB 4-room flat.

We lived in that flat for 10 years – until we had to sell it to purchase a bigger flat because all of us kids had grown up by then. And so, after my father passed away, my mother and my sister bought another 4-room which was bigger and able to accommodate the family size. And again, they took out a HDB loan. This would be my mom’s second loan.

Since then, my sister has married and the flat was sold so that she could buy a new one with her husband.

According to HDB rules, one is only allowed “two bites of the cherry”; that is, a Singaporean is only allowed to receive two HDB loans.

My mother is in her seventies now. In the past two years she has put up temporarily with my sister. As my brother-in-law and my sister are having problems making ends meet, I would like to help shoulder the responsibility of taking care of our mother.

This is the reason why I wanted to apply for a flat from the HDB – so that my mother could live with me in her old age and have someone to care for her.

But it seems that what my parents did, some 20 and 30 years ago, is now being used against me!

The HDB tells me that since my mom had obtained two HDB loans previously (even though they were decades ago), if I included her name with mine to apply for a flat (which is the only way I can obtain a flat directly from the HDB), I would not qualify anyway!

My parents had to take loans from the HDB because we were poor. Why is this now being used against us? And I have never applied for a flat direct from HDB ever! Why am I not allowed to because of these inflexible rules? Why am I “disqualified” from taking care of my aged mother?

The officer suggested that I could get married and this would solve my problem. But what kind of suggestion is this? Does she think I can just go out and "buy" a wife? In any case, why is taking care of my mother less important than having a wife, which is what she seems to be saying?

Even renting a room or a small flat in the open market is out of the question. The only option seems to be to apply for a rental flat from the HDB but even then, I am sure I too wouldn’t qualify, given how the government has tightened the criteria and the long waiting list.

At the moment, I am renting a room on my own which comes to almost S$500 a month. The market is such. Finding something cheaper is not easy. I would rather use this S$500 to pay for a small 3-room flat and have my mother live with me, so that in her old age she can have some peace of mind. She wouldn’t have to feel as though she is imposing herself on my sister and her husband who’re already saddled with problems of their own. They also have a small son to take care of.

I can only hope the HDB will show some understanding and compassion when I next visit it again.

It makes me sad to see how PRs are given the right to purchase HDB flats but Singaporeans are being left out because of inflexible HDB rules.

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The writer wishes to remain anonymous.