The Housing & Development Board (HDB) has launched a new rental model for low-income singles, aimed at providing them with more options for obtaining public rental flats.
The Single Room Shared Facility Scheme will enable tenants to have their own room while sharing facilities such as the bathroom, kitchen, and other common spaces.
The new scheme is a pilot project, and the 480 single rooms will be sited at the former Anderson Junior College hostel in Ang Mo Kio. The rooms are expected to be available for applications by the end of the year when the two 11-storey blocks are ready.
Each room measures around 9 sq m and comes with basic furnishings, including a bed frame, wardrobe, table, chair, and a small refrigerator. Bathroom and kitchen facilities will be shared, with approximately 12 people to one toilet and 24 people to a communal kitchen. Laundry and activity rooms will also be available.
The scheme comes in response to cases where tenants have difficulty living together, despite the current Singles Public Rental scheme being tweaked over the years.
In November last year, Denise Phua Lay Peng, Member of Parliament for Jalan Besar GRC, asked the Minister for National Development if the HDB had any initiatives to allow single or estranged persons to live alone instead of requiring a co-tenant for HDB rental flats.
She noted that it is not uncommon for MPs to receive requests from frustrated tenants who find it hard to get along with their assigned co-tenants and would prefer to live alone or transfer to another flat.
In the 2022 study conducted by the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy on homelessness in Singapore, one of the three distinct groups identified to be homeless, are long-term homeless persons who had been rough sleeping even before the pandemic hit Singapore in February 2020.
Pilot project to run for a year or two
The HDB is aiming to maximise the use of space to support as many vulnerable individuals as possible, while allowing tenants to provide mutual care and support.
Similar to the current Joint Singles Scheme Operator Run (JSS-OR) model, an operator will be appointed to manage the site, including mediation if there are disputes and providing social service support if needed.
The HDB’s Minister for National Development, Desmond Lee, said during a media tour on Monday that the scheme provides both privacy and enables social interaction.
He added that the pilot will run for a year or two before the ministry decides whether to include this among its range of offerings in its rental housing schemes.
Authorities are still working out the rental rates for the rooms. Currently, rent for one-room public rental flats ranges from S$26 to S$205, depending on one’s income level and other eligibility criteria.
HDB’s website states that most applicants have a household income below S$1,500, but those with higher incomes can still apply for an evaluation of their eligibility.
The HDB has been improving its rental housing schemes in recent years to improve the experiences of its tenants.
For instance, partitions have been added to existing rental flats to provide more privacy, and the JSS-OR has been piloted to allow singles to apply for a public rental flat individually, without having to find a flatmate first.
The JSS-OR also brings in a social service agency to match single applicants, provide social support, and mediate if there are disputes.
JSS repeatedly cited as a serious problem for tenants causing homelessness
According to the study by LKYSPP, this group has more men than women in this group and many had completely lost contact with their family and had poor experiences with public rental housing.
Irrationalities in policies, especially the Joint Singles Scheme (JSS) which requires applicants to pair up, created barriers to access and opportunities for conflict among tenants that led to exit from rental housing.
The JSS was repeatedly cited as a serious problem. This scheme requires single persons to pair up for the housing application and share a small studio flat with no bedrooms.
According to the study, some participants could not find a partner or the partner withdrew their interest during the application.
There is also an income limit which applies to the two applicants’ combined incomes. Some participants with very low earnings were disqualified because they breached the income threshold after adding the partner’s earnings.
At the time of the interviews for the study, even with the support of social workers at the shelter to submit fresh housing applications, some of these problems were already recurring.
Participants of the study shared about recent applications breaking down after arguments with their partner or when the partner was hospitalised.
Several participants had managed to obtain public rental housing in the past, but had poor experiences. They described conflicts with their co-tenant, not feeling safe, sleeping outside and eventually moving out.
The study notes that requiring two persons who do not know each other to live together created many opportunities for friction.
There were co-tenants with poor personal hygiene or who brought female friends home to spend the night.
There were also disagreements over rent payments because these are collected on a household rather than an individual basis.