“Wrong to increase rent during this period”: Netizens lambast NEA over its justification on 40% hawker stall rent increase

The National Environment Agency’s (NEA) justification on hawker stall rent increase has inevitably sparked debate online, with many netizens deemed it a “cruel” move to increase rental rates during this challenging period regardless of how “little” the increase will be.

The issue was first brought up by Makansutra founder KF Seetoh on Facebook last Friday (25 Jun), who shared a letter released by the NEA to a hawker where the revised rent was “almost 40 per cent” higher than the previous rate.

He proceeded to slam the agency for raising hawker stall rents amid challenging times, saying that “it’s a horrible timing” to do so now.

“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.

The next day (26 Jun), NEA issued a statement on Facebook clarifying 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”.

It explained that 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.

However, Mr Seetoh responded saying that it is about “timing and empathy, not the quantum nor the earlier well-intended rent waivers”.

In a Facebook post on Monday (28 Jun), he 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.

Netizens condemned NEA’s move to increase even just “a little” in hawker stall rent

Meanwhile, many netizens condemned the NEA’s move to increase the hawker stall rent, saying that it is “bad timing” to impose even just “a little” increase now, given that dine-in restrictions have severely hampered demand and hawkers are still struggling to earn for livelihood.

Penning their thoughts under the comments section of the NEA and Mothership’s Facebook posts, netizens urged the Government to freeze hawker stall rent increases until the situation improves – or at least when group sizes for dining-in at eateries are increased to more than two persons.

One netizen wrote: “Increasing 100 monthly, means either to pass cost to customers or sell more, if they have customers. Otherwise, they are paying out of pocket. Adding cost now is adding fuel to a fire for hawkers who are tired of fighting it for the past 14 months when covid measures started in 2020.”

“No matter how you play with mathematics, an increase in rental during an epidemic when shops have much less business is cruel from a government elected by the people,” said another Facebook user.

Some netizens pointed out that the NEA is “giving from one hand and taking back from the other hand” by offering rent waivers to hawkers, and then increase the hawker stall rent rates.

“Stop saying your stall rentals are less than commercially operated. Commercially operated stalls cannot charge low prices like hawkers. If we want a thriving hawker culture which has many benefits, we need to support them with subsidised rentals to make it an attractive place for the younger Gen to take over,” said one netizen.

Meanwhile, a handful others were wondering why the NEA would think that the 40 per cent increase is not as high as it was claimed to be, or that the S$300 increase is not a lot for hawkers, given that these would still be a “significant increase” to many people.

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