(Delivered in Parliament on 11 April 2016)
Mitigating Homelessness – Muhamad Faisal Abdul Manap
Madam, one case of homelessness in Singapore is one too many for our collective comfort. Deprived of a permanent shelter, an essential human need, it has a direct negative impact on the well being of the affected individual as well as our society at large. Till date, I have on several occasions raised the problem of homelessness in our midst. MSF, on its part had stated in a previous reply to my parliamentary question that it has on average rendered assistance to 300 homelessness cases each year. I, like many members in this House have also personally attended to a number of cases and it is certainly a heartbreaking process to see our fellow Singaporeans being left without a place where they can call home.
I understand that this issue of homelessness is a multi-faceted and complex one, a problem that requires the assistance of several stakeholders, including the affected individual and his family. As a member of this House, I would like to share my observations and put forward proposals to better mitigate this issue and bring some comfort to our fellow Singaporeans.
In a previous reply by MSF to my parliamentary question, the House was informed that in 2014, a study on families in transitional housing was conducted and it was found that these families often experienced occurrences such as divorce and financial difficulties. In fact, many had sold their flats and spent their monies to clear existing debts or for other purposes prior to becoming homeless.
Under existing policy, a home owner who has sold his flat regardless of the circumstances behind the sale is not allow to rent a flat under the public rental scheme within thirty months of the sale of their last flat. It is argued that home owners will benefit from the sales proceeds. But as many members in this House would concur, some home owners are left without much cash proceeds after clearing their personal debts and arrears arising from personal circumstances or legal rulings. As such, we need to have a more strategic and systematic manner in which we can capture the most vulnerable in our midst, especially those who potentially faces a higher risk of being homeless after the sale of a flat, such as the elderly and families with young children. As such, I would like to urge the MND to consider a more flexible and accommodative approach to the implementation of the thirty months rule, with scope for greater deliberation and discussion with affected families. A pro-active, and flexible approach to the implementation of the thirty months rule would certainly be comforting to many, akin to the spirit as expressed by a Chinese proverb: “Sending warm charcoal in the midst of a harsh winter.” (translation: 雪中送炭).
Elderly Subletting Facility – Muhamad Faisal Abdul Manap
Madam, retirement adequacy is a major issue for many low and middle income Singaporean families. As the family nucleus in Singapore shrinks in size, help should be given to elderly owners to use their flat to supplement their retirement income without requiring them to move out.
Currently there are two options, one is the Lease BuyBack Scheme (LBS), a monetisation scheme to help elderly households in three-room or smaller flats unlock their housing equity and the other one often suggested by the Ministry is the subletting of a bedroom in the existing household. There are many issues involved in the execution of the latter option. It could range from being the infringement of personal space to elderly owners facing difficulties obtaining tenants without the engagement of a real estate agent. Engaging a real estate agent could constitute an added financial burden to our elderly when in the first place, they already do not have much for retirement to begin with.
As such, I would like to propose an Elderly Subletting Facilitation (ESF) scheme, where HDB connects elderly flat owners who would like to sublet rooms with potential tenants. This could encourage up to two-fifths of elderly flat owners to sublet their flats to support their retirement. Furthermore, the ESF could be combined synergistically with the Public Rental Scheme, so that there is no need to turn away over 10,000 applicants to the Public Rental Scheme yearly. We can and must do so much more for our elderly Singaporeans who have toiled to transform Singapore to what it is today.
Lease Buyback – Chen Show Mao
I believe the Lease Buyback Scheme (LBS) has an important role to play in providing for the retirement adequacy of our seniors. Since last year, the Ministry has enhanced the Scheme in various ways to improve the take-up rate. I welcome these efforts.
Today I wish to reiterate an earlier call for LBS to be enhanced to give the children of the deceased the option to buy back the portion of the lease that has been sold, provided of course that they qualify to own an HDB flat. And significantly, to allow them to buy this back at the price of the unit valued at the time the LBS was executed by their parents.
I believe this will help address the concern on the part of elderly parents that their children would not be able to inherit the flat from them and hence would not enjoy that financial benefit to help them cope with higher property prices in the future. These seniors worry that property in future may be unaffordable to their children, especially those children who do not currently own flats.
They wish to pass on to their children as much as possible of the value that has accrued to their flat over the years, less of course the amount of financial support the seniors expect to receive from the lease buyout.
This could well result in their children acquiring their property at below-market rates in the future. But this is no different from parents passing on their property to children, an accepted principle. All that changes here is that those seniors who are in need will get another option to monetise their flats now while their children may be unable or even unwilling to provide for them in full. But still, as parents, they wish to offer better protection to their children from future property price inflation – a concern that may now be holding them back from taking up the LBS.
Lift Upgrading Programme Designs – Png Eng Huat
The Lift Upgrading Programme (LUP) is coming to a close. Many residents in Hougang welcome the new lifts. Although for some elderly residents, it came too late. For others, the LUP introduces a whole new set of problems and issues they never had to content with before.
For example, many would have thought that the installation of privacy louvers for the new LUP lift lobbies is a standard feature and a simple process as these are non-structural installations. However, some privacy louvers serve no purpose whatsoever because the gaps between the fins are too wide. Some are not even angled correctly to achieve any effect. And in the same block of flats, some lift lobbies have the louvers and some do not.
The flow of water along the common corridors is also affected by LUP. Water ponding and flooding become an issue for some residents as the original path of the water flow along the common corridor has been altered or re-routed.
One major bugbear of LUP can be found at Block 314 Hougang Ave 5. Residents living at lift lobby C found out to their disappointment that a new 1.2m lift landing bridge was built right beside one of the two benefitting units on each floor without factoring in the proximity of the affected unit and the dry riser.
While the new bridge may comply with the statutory requirements, the cement base of the dry riser effectively reduces the clear width of the entrance to less than 950mm at the base level. With the landing valve of the dry riser sticking out substantially, the clear width of the entrance of the lift landing was further reduced at about the shoulder height level. Taken as a whole, the new lift landing bridge at Block 314 does not comply with SCDF’s requirements as the entrance does not have the 1.2m clear width.
I thank the HDB team for trimming the cement base and re-orientating the landing valve of the dry riser to widen the width of the lift landing entrance at Block 314, but the fact remains that such measures were needed goes to show that some LUP designs need to go beyond just meeting statutory requirements.
In the case at Block 314, the new lift landing bridge meets the requirement but it is located right next to a dry riser and a resident’s flat. Affected residents can no longer leave their gates open or leave their shoes outside their doorway as that will cause obstructions at the entrance of the lift landing. These residents do not even have any space to put a simple shoe rack any more.
The Town Council has no issue to enforce its By-Laws to ensure these new passageways are not being obstructed indiscriminately but we are looking at a situation where the design of the landing bridge is being forced upon the residents to such a point where anything left outside their units will cause obstruction, no matter what.
The LUP is a comprehensive $5.5 billion programme. Is there any room for HDB to make good the bad designs as residents will have to live with the consequences, day in day out? And it does not help that LUP designs for similar flats in an estate can vary depending on the contractor who is doing the job. I must stress that I am not talking about defects but design anomalies.
Lift Maintenance – Low Thia Khiang
The Aljunied-Hougang Town Council currently manages 1,760 lifts in HDB estates, out of which 470 are new lifts installed under the Lift Upgrading Program (LUP) being turned on from 2012 onwards. Based on the figures gathered for lift breakdown in FY15/16, there were 3,683 breakdowns in total or 7.84 breakdowns per lift on average.
This is a relatively high breakdown rate considering these new lifts are barely 3 years old. I am not sure whether this happens only in Aljunied-Hougang Town or across the board. I would like to urge MND to take a look at the quality of the LUP lifts.
Next, with the growth in the numbers of lifts contributed by the LUP, the expenditure on lift maintenance for each year is also rising. In the case of Aljunied-Hougang TC, the latest revision in maintenance contracts by the original lift manufacturers will result in a cost increase of between 4.08% and 8.52%. The projected upward revision in maintenance rates beyond 2017 is even higher, estimated to be between 8.66% and 10.72%.
I believe that moving forward, lift maintenance will be a heavy financial burden on all the Town Councils. Hence, I request MND to consider providing a special grant for lift maintenance.
Finally, new lifts are designed by different lift manufacturers with their unique features and parts, especially the motherboard. This gives rise to maintenance issues, as the original manufacturers control the parts and pricing.
I suggest HDB considers a standardized lift design for HDB estates, to require manufacturers to produce lifts based on a standard design and make the standardized lift parts, so that both electronic and mechanical parts will be readily available. This will ensure competitive pricing in the manufacture and maintenance of lifts.
Pneumatic Waste Conveyance System – Low Thia Khiang
Since 1997, we have heard about the idea of pneumatic conveyance systems for waste disposal in our HDB estates, brought up in this House by the then Minister for Environment, Mr, Yeo Chew Tong. In 2013, I filed a cut noting that a pilot project under the Greenprint Initiative was slated to be carried out in Jurong East in 2013 and 2014.
I would like to seek an update on this, as pneumatic waste conveyance systems would be a huge productivity improvement over having to manually empty individual bulk bin inside each bin chute every day. Such a system can afford all town councils not only in better productivity but also savings in manpower costs. It is environmentally sustainable and gets rids of the problem of foul smells during refuse collection.
In June 2015, HDB said it would test-bed this pneumatic system in Yuhua. What has been the Ministry’s assessment of applying the system to an existing HDB estate? Can the Ministry comment on how feasible it will be to roll out the system to other HDB estates, especially the older ones?
It appears that upcoming HDB projects at Tampines North, Bidadari and Punggol Northshore will also use the system. However, the modernization of waste collection is a benefit that should be experienced by as many HDB estates as possible, including the older HDB estates.
HDB Goodwill Repair Assistance – Muhamad Faisal Abdul Manap
HDB provides assistance through the Goodwill Repair Assistance (GRA) Scheme, where HDB arranges for the repair works and co-pays 50% of the cost. The balance 50% is shared equally by the upper- and lower-floor flat owners, who shared the joint responsibility for the repair of ceiling leaks due to wear and tear.
Many residents I have spoken to welcome this form of assistance rendered by HDB as it lessens their financial burden. However, concerns persist and I would like to reflect my residents’ sentiments in this House. For instance, if the ceiling at lower floor unit faces a leak or has signs of leakage such as a distinct water mark or a bloated patch, no repair works would be done to the damaged ceiling. Only the source of the leak located at the upper floor unit would be rectified. But upon the completion of the repair works, both flat owners, the upper floor as well as the lower floor will each be billed 25% of the total repair costs. This is not fair to lower floor home owners.
As a member who represents a mature estate, I have regularly received feedback on wear and tear to their ceiling in their unit. In fact, a resident who is staying in the lower floor unit shared with me that in order to make repairs to her unit, she had to fork out additional costs. She is of the view that the repair of these damaged ceilings and its consequent repair costs should be included in the GRA scheme as the damage to their unit’s ceiling should be the joint responsibility of both owners, in accordance to the spirit of this particular policy. I am in agreement with her on this. The present policy has good intention, but we must be careful not to allow one set of family feeling shortchanged and left out.