By Terry Xu
Xiao Li is a single mother with a 14-year old and a 9-year old daughters. Her younger daughter is a special needs child with autism.
Her family has been living in a rented house for the past two years after being forced to sell her private property because of the en-bloc scheme.
Xiao Li was not able to purchase an HDB subsidised flat after the sale of her private property as per HDB regulations, which say:
"A person who has disposed of his/her private property will be debarred for 30 months from owning a subsidised flat. He/she would not be eligible to become an owner or essential occupier until the 30 month debarment period has expired."
As the younger daughter has autism, Xiao Li had to ensure that she is able to move her belongings from her former property so that her daughter will not have much of an issue coping with the new environment.
While there were HDB flats available for rent, she was not able to get one which allowed her to move in her stuff. Eventually, she had to settle for renting a private house which cost her $2,300 a month, a decision she had to make if she did not want to sleep on the streets with her two daughters, made especially difficult with her younger child's condition.
In April this year after her 30-month debarment period was up, she went to HDB to seek advise on an HDB loan for a four-room flat.
However, HDB told her that she is not able to get a HDB loan for the sum she is asking for as she is not qualified for HDB subsidies because she had claimed HDB grants twice, which Xiao Li denies.
She said that the first and only time she took the HDB grant was when she purchased a flat with her brother more than twenty years ago.
However, the HDB refused to budge on the matter, insisting that their computer records are correct.
The transaction that HDB referred to as the second transaction was a transfer between her and her brother but it was not successful due to certain issues.
Unfortunately for Xiao Li, she had discarded her documents on the purchase of the HDB flat. That transaction had taken place, after all, some 20 years ago.
"I didn't have a choice," said Xiao Li about selling her private property. "And HDB placed me in this situation where I had to pay a monthly rent of $2,300 for more than two years... If I didn't have to pay for the rent, I wouldn't have needed to seek a HDB loan."
Xiao Li paid close to $70,000 for rent over the past 30 months. She also lost $117,000 due to a commercial scam which involved a former MAS director.
She also could not take a housing loan for the 4-room flat as her monthly income was not enough to meet the bank's requirement. However, the bank gave her a letter saying that her loan application from the bank was rejected so that she could go to HDB to inform them that her options are limited in her appeal.
Eventually, she took her chances at the last balance of flat sale even without the HDB loan being approved. She had no choice but to insist on being given any flat available and to appeal for an HDB loan.
Xiao Li approached her Member of Parliament (MP), Assoc. Prof Fatimah Binte Abdul Lateef of Marine Parade GRC to help in her situation.
"I am a single mother with two growing up children to care for, and one of them is a special needs autistic kid that I have to see throughout her whole life," she wrote in her letter to the MP. "I can only die after her demise because no one in our economic pursuit society will ever care for such children... As I am still awaiting for the sale of balance flats to be launched in late May, I hope you can intervene to explain my predicament to HDB in order for me to be placed on their priority listing."
Assoc Prof Fatimah helped to write a letter to HDB but the appeal was rejected. HDB continued to insist that Xiao Li did not qualify for a flat because she had taken HDB grants twice.
During the approval process for the loan, she had to bring her special needs child along with her to the HDB hub in Toa Payoh. The HDB officer who attended to her maintained that HDB records show she had applied for grants twice.
"My daughter cried as she could not stay still in a place too long, causing the officers inside the office to come out to see what happened. When I shared my problems with them, they said they cannot help me at all."
An HDB officer in one of her sessions said to her that because of her special circumstance, the HDB could extend a "third" loan to her for a possible 3.8% interest. She declined the offer outright as it would land her in greater debt.
Eventually, it was through the help of her soon-to-be MP, Mr Pritnam Singh of Aljunied GRC who gave progress to her situation.
Mr Pritam wrote a letter to HDB.
The HDB officer called her and said, "We have received the letter from another MP, but still the system shows that you have applied twice. You wrote to another MP?", to which she said she had no choice since the former was not able to help her in any way.
"Actually, you only applied for grant once," said the HDB officer through the phone about her case. And therefore, her HDB loan can proceed since she is eligible for the second grant.
At this point, Xiao Li was angry that she had been made to approach many agencies seeking help over the past months. If not for her determination in getting her flat, she might have given in to HDB's initial claim that she had applied for grants twice, which she in fact did not.
Xiao Li thought back and said that it is most fortunate that she took the chance of applying for the balance flat despite not being granted the HDB loan.
Her HDB loan has since been approved but Xiao Li wants to make her story known so that people are aware of the possible pitfalls with HDB and to ensure that their housing documents are safely kept no matter how long ago their property had been purchased.
She hopes that families with special needs and circumstances can receive help from government agencies using unconventional provisions, so as cut down unnecessary procedure and protocol and not waste the family's time and effort.