On Tuesday (14 January), the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) called for the Housing and Development Board (HDB) to install lifts in Block 115 and 119 Marsiling Rise that serves every floor.
Sharing a link a video of a wheelchair-bound resident named Zohra who has to be carried down one floor every day in order to access the lift. SDP urged that the lifts would serve not only Zohra, who was paralysed after an accident three years ago, but also elderly residents and families with baby prams.
“The absence of such lifts not only cause great inconvenience but, more importantly, may endanger the health and safety of the residents,” lamented the party in its Facebook post.
SDP also shared that many have appealed to their MPs and the various authorities to take action but those efforts have been in vain.
The party shared a link to a petition asking HDB to install lifts in Blocks 115 and 119 and called for members of the public to sign it in support of residents in the affected blocks.
Cost too high
Housing Development Board (HDB) blocks built prior to 1990 did not have complete lift access, meaning some units were only accessible by stairs. So in 2001, the Lift Upgrading Programme (LUP) was launched to provide direct lift access to flats for the convenience of residents, especially the elderly and less mobile.
At the time the programme was launched, about 5,300 blocks did not have 100% lift access. Now, about 150 blocks remain without complete lift access.
HDB’s website notes that under the LUP, new lift shafts and lifts will be provided where technically and economically feasible.
However, the LUP has spending limitations on lift renewals, and the budget that would be required for upgrading the infrastructure of Blocks 115 and 119 is beyond the limit.
Using Block 115 as an example, Mr Ong said that the building is built on a slope and has a unique structure, making it difficult for lift renewal, thus increasing the overall budget.
He also noted that Block 115 has more executive maisonette (EM) units compare to single-storey units, meaning that there are fewer units overall in the building. That makes the cost per unit of the renewal much higher.
According to HDB’s website, Block 115 has 21 four-room units and 45 EM units while Block 119 has 24 four-room units and 48 EM units.
Under the LUP regulations, renewal of lifts limits the per unit budget to S$30,000.
Mr Ong told Zaobao that he has been writing letters to the authorities since becoming a Member of Parliament in 2011 to request for new flats for residents who are in need of lifts. However, he also noted that some residents are reluctant to move.
He said, “We asked every resident in these two flats if they need to move, but some insist on not moving because the EM unit’s space is big and comfortable.”
Mr Ong also highlighted that other MPs have raised questions in Parliament about whether the lift renewal budget limits can be revised.
MPs have raised the issue in Parliament regularly
Back in 2018, Workers’ Party MP Png Eng Huat asked the Minister for National Development whether HDB would consider polling residents in the still-not-upgraded blocks to explore the possibility of co-sharing the cost of upgrades beyond the funding cap in order to provide lift access.
In response, the Second Minister for National Development Desmond Wong said that HDB has yet to find solutions to overcome existing constraints in those 150 blocks. He added that about 70 per cent of those blocks are no eligible for lift upgrading due to cost considerations.
In blocks where LUP is not feasible, the cost of providing 100% lift access would be prohibitive, said Mr Lee.
He also said that asking residents to co-share part of the amount beyond the cost cap may cause undue financial hardship to residents. Given that LUP is done on a polling basis, it means that those who do not vote in favour of LUP still have to pay their share of the cost of the upgrade if the majority asked for it.
He then said that HDB is continuing to study available technical and innovative solutions to the problem, adding that if they come up empty, HDB might make the polling option possible.
Later in 2019, MP for Ang Mo Kio GRC Gam Thiam Poh asked in Parliament whether HDB will consider alternatives such as sky bridges to connect flats without lifts on their floor to the next available lift if lifts on every floor remain non-feasible for the time being.
In response, Minister of National Development Lawrence Wong said LUP is still not feasible for the remaining 150 blocks due to high cost or existing technical and site constraints.
He also said that the suggestion of sky bridges would need to be studied carefully, adding that it would require extensive structural work which is likely to be very expensive.
In the meantime, Mr Wong said that HDB will continue to look for cost effective technical solutions for flats without direct lift access.
Coming back to Mr Ong, he said that MPs have been communicating with the authorities on this issue for many years now, emphasising that those in charge are actively researching options. Mr Ong believes that lift renewals for Blocks 115 and 119 will happen, it’s just a matter of time.
SDP: why must everything be calculated in dollars and cents?
In response to Mr Ong’s reported comments on high cost, SDP asks:
“But why must everything be calculated in dollars and cents? What about the safety of the residents especially the elderly, disabled and those with babies?”
According to SDP’s Facebook post on Wednesday evening, residents have told the party that they would rather have the lifts than the parks and other fancy structures which many residents regard as “white elephants”.
“They told us that they have never asked for these so-called amenities and would rather that the money be spent on lift upgrading.” wrote SDP.
As for Mr’s Ong comment that the residents can move to another flat, SDP asks:
What about the expense of moving? Will they be compensated since it is harder to sell these older flats? Where do they move to? What about older folks who having lived in the area for decades be able to uproot and adjust to their new environment?
It went on to criticise Mr Ong as being irresponsible for making such an unthinking suggestion. Does he really understand or even care about how the residents feel?
SDP questioned why Mr Ong says that it is only a matter of time before the lifts are upgraded after raising concerns the cost, technical, terrain and construction considerations?
“Have they all suddenly become resolvable now that elections are near?” asked SDP.
SDP states that its Marsiling-Yew Tee team is monitoring the situation closely and has submitted the residents’ petition to National Development Minister Lawrence Wong on Wednesday morning.