By Leong Sze Hian

I refer to the article “Rental Relief: Two-year rent freeze for low-income earners whose monthly wages cross the $800 threshold” (Straits Times, Jun 20).

So good – waive 2 years?

It states that “Instead, their rents will stay unchanged for two years. They will get another two-year waiver should their household income still remain low compared to the rent increase they face. This will be decided by the Housing Board on a case-by-case basis.”

Most cruel heartless policy change?

In my analysis and articles on HDB (I think  I have written over 100) over the last decade plus or so, this “HDB rental increase” policy change implemented on 1 March 2007, is in my view, the most “heartless” and “cruel”  HDB policy change ever implemented.

Can you imagine what life is like for a family’s household income to be just over $800? To change the policy to increase those families whose household income cross the $800 benchmark, from $26 to $33 rental, to $90 to $123 – is beyond human reasoning.

Was Parliament sleeping?

What was the HDB thinking in November 2006, when it announced this policy change? What were our Ministers and MPs thinking at that time, when they allowed such a cruel heartless policy change to be effected?

Over 80,000 letters of appeal? 

What is this “will be decided by the Housing Board on a case-by-case basis” nonsense? How many of the 5,500 letters of appeal that MPs wrote to the HDB, from just 1 GRC in 2012 – were approved? If just 1 GRC wrote 5,500 letters of appeal to HDB in 1 year, how many letters did all the GRCs send to the HDB? (“5,500 letters of appeal on HDB in 2012 in 1 GRC?“, Jan 17)

What about all those HDB rental increase victims who can’t go to the MPS session (same night every week) because they are on a permanent work shift which clashes with the MPS night, or those who have mobility problems, or those who are not savvy enough to know that they can appeal to their MPs, etc?

In this regard, since “There were 1,869 tenants who have crossed the $800 income mark. Mr Khaw said in his blog, and 1,004 of them have been granted a waiver on appeal” – what about the other 865 tenants who were not “granted a waiver on appeal” – they got rejected or what? Or they didn’t appeal or what? Or they can afford the increase even though they earned only $801 to $1,500 or what?

Case-by-case basis?

In this connection, I used to write to the newspaper forums on HDB matters (I think I have been quoted over 500 times in the newspaper forums) – and the HDB’s replies in the early years almost always invariably will say that Singaporeans can always appeal the the HDB on a case-by-case basis.

So, one fine day, I got fed-up and wrote to a newspaper forum to ask the HDB to give the statistics as to how many appeals they receive and how many did they approve in a year? – I don’t think I ever got an answer!

On a side note (just to quash a rumour that I have been banned by the newspaper forums) – its just that I have stopped writing letters to the forums because the online blogs’ editors have asked me to try to put out my analysis and commentary whenever the news breaks (note: newspaper forums can take as long as 5 days to publish your letter) – if possible by the same day evening – so, I can’t write to the forums as they only accept unpublished writings.

Sleeping in the last 2 years?

As to “The propect of such a rise may also inadvertently   discourage some tenants from “working hard to improve their incomes”, he added, noting that it was Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong who had alerted him to the phenomenon two years ago” – why did it take so long (2 years) – what were you doing these 2 years, whilst hundreds of tenants suffered the financial pains of a rental hike of as much as 273 % ($123 divided by $33)?

In this connection, I used to get calls or SMS on HDB payment problems practically every week during my 3 year plus stint as a Chinese Radio talkshow host (about 1 hour show weekly) – and my suggestion in addition to seeing their MP, was to ask their employer if they could pay the salary increase in kind (milk powder or something) so that they may not end up having a negative net cashflow when their pay increase (for example employer increase $50 (last year’s NWC recommendation for workers earning less than $1,000) from $760 t0 $810 – HDB rental increase by $90 from $33 to $123 = net $40 decrease in cashflow – make sense or not?).

Parliament sleeping?

With regard to “She (MP Lily Neo) sees three to five cases a week of residents pleading for a waiver of their rent hike at her Meet-the-People Session” – is this not indicative of how useless or ineffective our MPs in Parliament have been all these years, when as I understand it practically every year, MPs bring up the problems of their residents affected by this cruel heartless HDB rental increase policy change – and the policy is still there – now so kind – only delay 2 years or more than 2 years still on a case-by-case basis!

What was Parliament thinking (where was (and is) your conscience then and now?), when you allowed this cruel heartless policy change to go unchallenged in Parliament in November 2006.

Very very sad, sigh?

Don’t the Ministers, MPs, MND and the HDB realise that this cruel heartless policy is adding another huge burden to these low-income families who’s real income growth in the last 5 years or so,  I believe, was negative?

Back in time to Nov 2006?

In this connection, allow me to reproduce a letter I wrote then (November 2006) on this issue:

“17 Nov 2006

How can lower-income families cope with 200% rent hike? I refer to the article ‘HDB rents to be phased in over two tenancy renewals’ (ST, Nov 13).It states that ‘existing tenants will be given three months’ notice of their new rent before their current tenancy is up’.According to HDB’s press release ‘More help for those who need rental flats’, from 1st March 2007, one-room tenants who rented HDB flats before 1st October 2003, with household income from $801 to $1,500 will pay 30 per cent of market rent, instead of the current 10 per cent, at the second renewal. 

Tenancy renewals are on a two-year term tenancy. This is a three-fold increase, from the current $26 – $33 to about $78 – $99.

For two-room tenants who started renting after 1st October 2003, with household income from $1,501 to $2,000, their rental will increase from the current 30 per cent of market rent to 50 per cent, from the first renewal. This is an increase of 67 per cent, from $123-$165 to $205- $276.

From 13th November 2006, new $800 and below household tenants who have previously sold one subsidised flat in the open market (i.e. second-time households), will be charged 30 per cent of market rent, instead of 10 per cent, an increase of 200 per cent. For $801-$1,500 households, they will pay 30 per cent and 50 per cent of market rent for first-timers and second-timers respectively.

From 1994 to 2005, the Service and Conservancy Charges for one-room rental flats increased from $3.50 to $18.50, an increase of about 428 per cent, which is about 16 per cent per annum compared to annual inflation of about 2 per cent.

According to the Department of Statistics’ (DOS) Household Expenditure Survey 2003, the lowest 20 per cent of households by average monthly income had average monthly household expenditure of $1,259 against average income of $795 in 2003.

According to the DOS’s General Household Survey 2005, the bottom 10 per cent of households by income had no income from work, and the 11th to 20th percentile had declining income of 4.3 per cent per annum from 2000 to 2005.

In the light of the monthly income-expenditure deficit, declining income, and rising costs of living, how do lower-income families earning just over $800 cope with the rent increase of up to 200 per cent?”

Repeal the policy change lah?

This very very cruel heartless policy should just be repealed, if we truly care for the 46,000 low-income families living in HDB rental flats .


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