Conflicts between co-tenants under the Housing and Development Board’s (HDB’s) Joint Singles Scheme (JSS) is “a problem more than reported” with some co-tenants falling into depression as their well-being is affected by the arrangement, said Jalan Besar GRC MP Dr Lily Neo in parliament on Wednesday (4 March).
“It is difficult for complete strangers compelled to stay together,” she said, adding that many co-tenants end up living “miserably with frequent quarrels”. She claimed that community mediation doesn’t work for them due to many reasons.
As such, Dr Neo asked the Ministry of National Development (MND) if it screens potential tenants for mental illness and medical conditions before pairing people up under the scheme, suggesting that such assessments should be implemented if it isn’t already.
She also asked if HDB could offer rental flats with more partitions in order to provide more privacy to each co-tenant and if HDB could provider newer models of rental flats with better use of space and cost geared towards providing more privacy.
Dr Neo pointed out, “Those that seek rental flats are usually the disadvantaged and more vulnerable members of our society that our government can assist with more of their housing needs.”
As such, she also urged for the 30-year-old policy to be reviewed, saying that “it is time for Singapore to be more gracious towards the most disadvantaged group in our society in providing them the basic needs of roofs over their heads.”
“It is time to tweak this policy for humane reasons,” Dr Neo stressed.
The JSS was introduced in 1990 to allow Singaporean singles to jointly purchase or rent HDB flats.
Dr Neo went on to ask if MND would also allow flexibility under the scheme to offer single tenancy, especially for those with no family members to share with, while also giving tenants the option to share with a co-tenant companionship and support if they so chose.
She explained that there are many needy families with children living in HDB flats, many of whom have been there for over six to 10 years, thus showing “signs of entrenchment”.
As such, Dr Neo asked if there are schemes in place to help such people in looking for better housing options and to help them get out of their predicament. She also asked for the success rates of such schemes.
Later in the parliamentary session, Dr Neo asked MND Minister Lawrence Wong why the JSS can’t be tweaked to facilitate just the most vulnerable groups in Singapore in addressing their housing needs.
In response, Mr Wong pointed out that the JSS has been tweaked and has evolved over the years.
“JSS today is different from what it used to be because today we have more partitions, we provide more privacy, we give flexibility,” said the minister.
He explained that his ministry is prepared to consider the needs of anyone who comes to them with medical conditions that require them to stay on their own, adding that “it is not a blanket no”.
However, he further explained, “The reason why we can depart from this and say everyone live on their own now is the real constraint which I mentioned earlier. If we are going to double, triple the number of rental units that we have in order to accommodate because every JSS tenant wants to split up, we do not have land. That’s a real constraint.”
He reiterated, “So there is no land available to build more, you’ve got to build new flats, we’ve got to build new rental flats. There is no land.”
Mr Wong is referring to his earlier response to a separate question by Nominated MP Anthea Ong who asked about the problem of overcrowding in HDB flats and the maximum occupancy cap for rental flats.
In his reply to Ms Ong, Mr Wong said that despite the government’s effort in providing bigger HDB units for larger families, land supply is one of the key constraints as it is important to ensure the demand for flats in the country can be met on a sustainable basis in the long run.
He hinted, “That’s actually getting harder and harder to do, as our island gets more built up.”
Mr Wong said in his reply to Dr Neo, “I hope members understand we are not trying to stop or be hard-hearted about this. There is just not enough space to build so many more new housing units. So we try to optimise where we can.”
He also addressed Dr Neo’s point on a majority of co-tenants facing conflicts. He said that a survey of JSS tenants shows that a majority of them actually do get along. Mr Wong explained that it is a minority that face these conflicts and the ministry “can manage that” if the co-tenants do not get along or if there’s a medical condition.
“If they do not get along in the first instance, let us try to find ways to pair you up with somebody else. If there are medical conditions, then we will look at your case and we will consider allowing you to stay on your own if there is a need to,” he asserted.