Neither compensation nor empathy extended to residents of Geylang Lorong 3 who face difficulties in moving out

On Monday, The Straits Times (ST) reported that the 191 two-storey terraced houses in Geylang Lorong 3 are set to be handed over to the Singapore Land Authority (SLA) upon the units’ 60-year lease expiry and will later be demolished for future housing plans.

The properties were built in the 1950s to accommodate families displaced from attap houses in Kampong Koo Chye that were destroyed in a major fire. The residents were then relocated in Geylang Lorong 3 by the colonial government years before Singapore declared its independence in 1965.

Documents seen by ST indicated that demolition works for the properties will commence in the third quarter of next year and is expected to be completed by the first quarter of 2023.

The Housing and Development Board (HDB), however, did not disclose details on the future housing plans, raising speculation that this could be another case of HDB possibly reneging on building public housing in favour of building private condominiums.

Following that, around 37 families living in Geylang Lorong 3 are told to vacate their homes by 31 December without any compensation.

Of those, 30 families have managed to find alternative housing, while the remaining seven are “considering renting another property in the interim”, the SLA told ST.

The other 149 units have been converted to dorms housing foreign workers and places for religious activities.

TOC spoke to some of the remaining residents in Geylang Lorong 3. Though most of them had anticipated this situation, they feel reluctant to move away from the estate.

Residents also told TOC that SLA’s officers have been visiting the estate regularly to remind them to move out by the end of this year.

One of the long-time residents, Madam Koh, shared that she has been living in the estate since the fire incident that destroyed her family’s house 60 years ago and had been working as a seamstress from home.

Madam Koh, who is single, previously stayed with her family members in her current house but now she lives alone in the estate.

Though she feels reluctant to move out from her current residence, she understands that nothing can be done as the estate’s lease has reached to its expiry date.

Madam Koh added that she will be moving to a rental flat provided to her by the government within these two weeks.

Speaking to an elderly couple, they shared that they had to be assigned a rental flat due to the delay in handing over of keys to their build-to-order (BTO) flat as a result of the COVID-19 circuit breaker.

They had, like others, originally asked for the rental flat near their estate. However, they were refused, saying that they are not eligible to rent there.

They shared that many of those living here were initially under the impression that the government would compensate them at the end of the lease or allocate housing to them near the end of the lease. However, they were disappointed as neither was done.

As the housing in the estate is considered private housing, they cannot apply for public housing even if they wanted to prior to 2018. They would have to sell off their flat and wait for 30 months and, at the same time, find alternative accommodation during this period. They may even have to buy off the open market.

According to the husband, at the height of the estate price, one flat could reach about S$200,000 due to the temples being restricted from setting up in HDB flats. Even so, they wouldn’t have enough to pay for the flat.

One resident, who lives with his 85-year-old mother with medical conditions, said he is still dealing with the authorities regarding his BTO flat in Jurong to ensure that he will not have to move away twice.

The resident claimed that the government is now arranging a rental flat for him and his mother, two years after he submitted his application to the authorities.

However, he alleged that the authorities are demanding him to pay more than he can afford in order to proceed with the application.

He claimed that he does not have the required sum as certain grants and subsidies are currently in dispute.

TOC understands that the family will have to dispose of most of their house furniture as the new home is unable to accommodate many items.

Another resident revealed that there had been appeals for an extension on the lease expiry date but they were denied by the authorities.

She noted that she has already found a place to live in Punggol. However, she hinted that the new place will not be as convenient as her current residence due to lack of amenities.

The resident added that SLA’s officers have been asking her to move out while she is struggling to move her bulky items to her new accommodation.

One officer from the SLA had allegedly told her to use a trolley to move her belongings from Geylang to her new residence in Punggol.

“How can the officer say such heartless thing,” she remarked.

An elderly woman, who is accompanied by a domestic worker, told TOC that her son had arranged a new accommodation for her. But she feels reluctant to move from Geylang Lorong 3 because most of her friends stay around the area and that she has reservations at a high-rise estate.

Meanwhile, a resident who lives with her elderly uncle with medical conditions claimed that they face difficulties in finding new accommodation.

Though she was offered rental flats priced at S$700 to S$1,000 in Punggol and Woodlands, she noted that they could not afford to pay the cost.

The resident claimed that she had applied for a flat in a mature area around Geylang Lorong 3, as her uncle would need to visit the GP clinic there for regular medical check-ups.

Her application, however, was disqualified due to her “special circumstances” of being single and her uncle’s poor financial condition.

Despite the availability of other rental flats nearby their current residence, she alleged the authorities had told her that the flats will not be applicable to her.

Meanwhile, some elderly residents were informed that they have to clear the items in their homes entirely before moving out, while some said that there isn’t the case.

TOC has reached out to the SLA to clarify on the matter.

UPDATE: SLA has clarified on Friday (20 Nov) that it has engaged the residents of Geylang to explain the necessary steps before handing over their properties to the state. It noted that the residents could leave their unwanted items behind as SLA will assist to dispose of the items.

 “Owners are not required to demolish any fixtures or do any works to reinstate the property,” SLA told TOC in an email.  

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