Thursday, May 13, 2010

More flexibility with interim rental housing?

The Housing and Development Board (HDB) can do more for families on the brink of losing their homes, say some social workers. In response, the board says it does show flexibility on a case-by-case basis.

Tanjong Pagar Family Service Centre executive director Wong Kwong Sing, for example, hopes interim rental housing can be supplied by the authorities before families are forced onto the streets.

“Most families are displaced due to the repossession of their flats by HDB or banks for their inability to repay the mortgage,” he said. “If the authority can arrange and facilitate the Interim Rental Housing assistance prior to repossession, this will definitely reduce the number of homeless families.”

Two other social workers MediaCorp spoke to also felt HDB should be “more flexible” and “exercise its discretion on compassionate grounds” when enforcing rental flat rules.

Moral FSC (Bukit Panjang) executive director Gerard Tan has come across clients who cannot access any of the range of public housing options due to personal and family circumstances, such as having children out of wedlock.

“While there’s a need for the housing policy to be applied consistently, sympathetic consideration may be warranted where the welfare of children is concerned,” he said.

When contacted, HDB said it “can exercise flexibility on a case-by-case basis”.

“We need to adopt a holistic approach to help the families, beyond just housing. Without solving the underlying issues involved, the families could easily lapse into ‘homelessness’ again, even if a flat were provided to them,” it added.

HDB said it works closely with banks, town councils and the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports to resolve these families’ long-term social, financial and accommodation options.

The stock of rental flats has also been increased to 44,500 units, up from 42,000 in 2007, with an average waiting time of one year, down from 21 months last year, HDB added.

Meanwhile, Tanjong Pagar FSC has worked with Central Singapore Community Development Council to expedite approval of financial assistance to homeless clients. The wait is now two weeks, instead of four to six weeks.

None of the displaced adults who surfaced at the FSC could seek refuge with their immediate family members, noted Mr Wong, who urged Singaporeans to show more compassion toward their own family members.

While he “doesn’t think there’s going to be a magic bullet to slay this beast”, Mr Tan noted how occupants of rental public housing projects in Malaysia’s Selangor state can now do community service to pay off their rent arrears, similar to the Australian government’s work-for-the dole programme.

“Perhaps some incarnation of these schemes might be helpful in the Singapore context?” he wondered.

Source: Today, 13 May 2010

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