That “little increase” in hawker stall rental rates means “a lot” to hawkers, Makansutra founder KF Seetoh responds to NEA

"It's about the timing and empathy, not the quantum nor the earlier well intended rent waivers. We can all do better."

Even that “little increase” in the rental rates would mean “a lot” to hawkers, said Makansutra founder KF Seetoh in a Facebook post on Monday (28 Jun), following the National Environment Agency’s (NEA) clarifications that the increase in hawker stall rents have not exceeded S$300.

The NEA earlier on Saturday (26 Jun) stated that the rental rates for hawker stalls have been “kept unchanged throughout three years”, adding that monthly hawker stall rents can be “as low as a few hundred dollars, or even S$1”.

The statement was made after Mr Seetoh posted on Facebook last Friday (25 Jun) regarding the announcement that hawker stall’s rent would be raised by 40 per cent. He proceeded to slam the NEA for raising hawker stall rents amid challenging times.

According to NEA, the renewal of tenancy three years later will be based on prevailing market rates assessed by independent professional valuers, which can be higher or lower than the previous rate.

“In recent years, rental revision upwards at tenancy renewals in our hawker centres have not exceeded $300. On the other hand, there have been rental revisions downwards of more than $300 upon tenancy renewals.

“It is misleading to look at percentage increases alone as a $300 increase from a low rental will appear as a large percentage increase,” said the agency.

NEA also pointed out that it had frozen rental increases from 1 April last year to 31 March this year due to the difficulties caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The agency added that hawkers were provided with five months of rental waivers and three months of subsidies for table-cleaning and centralised dishwashing services, as well as the Self-Employed Person Income Relief of nine months for eligible hawkers.

In response to the NEA’s statement, Mr Seetoh took to his Facebook earlier today to emphasise that it is about “timing and empathy, not the quantum nor the earlier well-intended rent waivers”.

He also shared a letter received by a pair of hawkers, which indicates the amount of rental hike offered to them has gone from S$800 to S$1,100 per month. The date of the letter was censored but the year in which the revised charges would apply is “2021”.

Mr Seetoh noted that the hawkers now have to pay S$1,550 per month, adding that they have decided to close permanently when their term ended.

“It may not sound like alot to many, but the hawker said he will accept and ‘move on’ which really meant they will quit and close permanently when the term ended.

“That ‘little’ increase’ meant alot to the hawker. Both are now jobless and contemplating the next move,” he said.

Mr Seetoh went on to say that the price hike also affected the new assistant and trainee that the hawkers were grooming to take over and/or set up another outlet.

“Now, in one by-the-book policy swoop, two Singaporeans are made jobless. I don’t know how many more hawkers were affected by this rule this last 12 months,” he remarked.

Mr Seetoh previously slammed NEA for increasing hawker stall rents by 40% amid pandemic

NEA’s statement on Saturday came after the Makansutra founder voiced his concerns about raising the hawker stall’s rent by 40 per cent.

In a Facebook post a day last Friday, Mr Seetoh did not mention which hawker stalls are subjected to the rental hike, but include a letter by NEA informing a stall owner on the rental raise.

He slammed the agency for raising the rental rates amid challenging times, asking if this act of increasing hawkers rental rates by 40 per cent – whilst coming up with a campaign informing the public to pay more for food – is in line with world standards.

“Here we all are doing our best to #supportourhawkers, and there they are at same time raising the hawkers rent by almost 40%… Why oh why I ask. You may need to claw back to top up the national coffers but do your leaders even know it’s a horrible timing to do so now. This hawker had been languishing in sales this whole year,” said Mr Seetoh.

He asserted that although two people are allowed to dine-in, in accordance to rules set in Phase 3 (Heightened Alert) phase, the situation is not great for the hawkers.

This is because most people are buying things online, making it difficult for hawkers who are working offline to make sales.

“Lotsa folks are buying online and WFM, a seductive and convenient culture ingrained into us over the last year and many offline hawkers are left to dry out,” Mr Seetoh stressed.

“Two to a table with 3 turns at peak lunch hour is only 6 dishes n drinks, that’s just scratching at hope’s door. Top that up with this ‘professional valuers’ decree that rents must be raised now, it is another death knell for the #supportourhawkers movement,” he added.

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