Sunday, July 26, 2009

2 families under one rented roof

School-bus driver Abdul Kamar pays $324.50 a month to rent a three-room flat in Toa Payoh.

Sounds cheap? It is, but there is one condition.

He must share the space with another household - paying the same sum - under the HDB's interim rental housing (IRH) scheme.

Introduced this year, it is targeted at families in financial difficulty and looking to downgrade.

While waiting to move to a smaller flat, they can rent temporary accommodation from the HDB - at below-market rate.

Mr Abdul, 47, his homemaker wife, 42, and their three children aged five, 11 and 15 moved into their flat at the start of this month.

The $324.50 rental covers the utility as well as service and conservancy charges.

The other family is a couple with two sons in Secondary 1 and 4. The husband is a housekeeper in a hotel while the wife is a parking attendant.

Each family occupies a room in the three-room flat and shares the living room.

The market rental for a room in Toa Payoh is about $500 a month, excluding utilities.

Under the IRH scheme, it is compulsory for families to share a flat as 'it makes the rent more affordable and sustainable', said Mr Andy Low, general manager of EM Services.

Although the flats are owned by the HDB, they are managed by EM Services, a property management company, which determines the rental, length of lease and negotiations with the tenants.

There are about 500 three-room flats under the IRH scheme, of which about 50 are occupied.

These flats became available when their original owners moved out. Under the selective en-bloc redevelopment scheme (Sers), residents of flats of about 30 years old are relocated to new blocks nearby.

The vacated flats are in areas like Havelock Road, Taman Ho Swee and Toa Payoh. About half of these flats are in Block 28, Toa Payoh Lorong 6.

Although living in such close quarters could cause friction between tenants, Mr Low said he has not yet come across any disputes.

'We have measures to help families cope with the co-sharing arrangement, such as having basic house rules. We are also prepared to mediate should a problem arise,' he said.

Families with similar backgrounds are paired up, and are advised not to store any of their belongings in common areas.

Mr Abdul said he is content with the current arrangement and will stay on until he can move to a two-room flat allocated to him in Bukit Merah.

The driver, who earns between $1,200 and $1,300 a month, lived in a four-room Yishun flat until just over a year ago. When he was unable to pay the monthly instalments on his home loan, his flat was repossessed by the bank.

Unable to rent a flat on the open market, his family spent about a year sharing a three-room flat with two other families in Marsling Drive, owned by New Hope Community Services, a charity body.

Earlier this year, it referred Mr Abdul to EM Services.

'It has not been a problem sharing a flat, especially since we're used to it,' said Mr Abdul, adding that the two families do not interact much.

'We don't have dinner together though we sometimes watch TV... Especially with children, if you get too close, there may be misunderstandings and quarrels.'

Source: Sunday Times, 26 July 2009

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