Leong Sze Hian and Ko Siew Huey/
She was the first in line at her constituency’s Meet the People’s session that night, having arrived a few hours earlier to ensure she got to see her new Member of Parliament, Sylvia Lim.
Single and therefore unavailable?
Amy (not her real name) is a 43-year-old single woman who has been staying at a homeless shelter for the past nine months. Amy had earlier applied for a two-room Built to Order (BTO) flat with her mother, who unfortunately, died in December last year.
That night, she was there to seek help with her flat application. Under the Housing and Development Board (HDB) policy, a family nucleus is needed in order to fulfill the eligibility requirements for a new HDB flat. The death of her mother has therefore created a situation where her application for a BTO may be affected. Amy had previously written to the HDB in January to enquire about her status, but five months on, she has yet to receive an answer.
Sold flat to pay medical bills
Back in 2009, in order to pay for her mother’s medical bills, Amy sold the four-room flat in Sembawang that she co-owned with her brother for $300,000. Most of the proceeds went back into their CPF accounts and she claimed that a big part of the cash portion of about $90,000 went to her brother who at that time was starting a family.
She, her mother and her brother’s family then moved to a rental unit. The cost of rental with utilities came up to $1600 every month.
As a low wage earner, Amy found it tough keeping up with the payments. Eventually, they were chased out by their landlord in August last year. She moved to a homeless shelter in Sept 2010, while her brother and his family were relocated to a different one. Her ailing mother was then admitted to an old folks’ home but passed away shortly after three months.
Even though Amy has five other siblings, theirs is a strained relationship. She said that even after she was evicted from her rental unit, none of them offered accommodation to her and her mother.
An interim scheme that does not live up to its name?
Amy is currently working as a helper at a sugar cane stall, earning $160 a week. She said that given her financial situation, it would be impossible for her to afford a rental unit at the prevailing market price.
She has since lodged 18 appeals to the HDB in her attempts to apply for a subsidized rental flat.
Each time, she says the response is the same – under current HDB policy, she will have to wait 30 months from the time of the sale of her last flat before she is eligible to apply for a subsidized rental unit.
Even then, she will have to wait for many more months before she is allocated a unit, which means that her wait could be a long drawn out affair.
Amy said with a hint of exasperation: “By the time I get my rental unit, the BTO would already be ready. I just don’t understand why I have to wait so long.”
Looking anxious as she recounted her story, Amy said that her most urgent need now is to have a roof over her head. She knows that her stay at the shelter is only a stopgap measure. Already, a friend (34 year old with a 8 year old daughter) at the same shelter has been asked to leave.
However, whether her BTO application will be approved is another matter given that she is now applying as a single. Nonetheless, she believes that this is her best hope of finding a long term solution to her housing woes as the money in her CPF account is sufficient to cover the cost of the unit. The flat is slated for completion in 2014.
Alex Lew, Lee Mei Wei, Ko Siew Huey and Leong Sze Hian provide free financial counseling every Thursday from 8 – 10 pm., at Block 108, Potong Pasir Ave 1.