Speech by MOS Faishal Ibrahim at the Committee of Supply Debate 2021 – Supporting Vulnerable Citizens
Mar 4, 2021
Mr Chairman, the COVID-19 pandemic has affected many Singaporeans, with the lower-income and vulnerable among us especially hard-hit, for instance in terms of jobs and income loss.
At the same time, the crisis has brought out the best in us. We saw so many individuals and groups stepping forward to help others. For example, groups of volunteers went out at night to befriend rough sleepers, distribute essentials, and offer them shelter and assistance.
The Government has also implemented extensive support to help lower-income households bounce back stronger from these challenging times, including through the COVID-19 Budget measures. Households living in HDB 1- and 2-room flats received an average of $3,400 per member from COVID-19 Budget measures.
We also rolled out additional support for households living in public rental flats. About 47,000 such households benefitted from three months of rent rebates from October to December 2020. Late payment charges have also been suspended from April 2020 to March 2021.
To Ms Carrie Tan’s suggestion on further rent waivers, I would like to assure her that the Government will continue providing targeted support to lower-income households to cope with the impact of COVID-19. For example, via the Household Support Package announced during the Budget speech, as well as the COVID-19 Recovery Grant and Jobs Support Scheme.
Government agencies and community partners have also stepped up outreach to public rental households to offer assistance. HDB has sent out letters and SMSes to inform these households to approach HDB or Social Service Offices (SSOs) if they cannot afford their rent or need other financial assistance.
HDB has existing guidelines to lower the rent for households who cannot afford their rent. In 2020, about 4,000 public rental households were assisted with lowered rents, including those who experienced a fall in income.
We also continue to look for more ways to partner the community. I attended one of HDB’s Emerging Stronger Conversations, or ESC, on enhancing housing support for vulnerable communities. The participants shared many thoughtful suggestions, including suggestions to help large families and singles staying in rental flats. We are studying these suggestions, and welcome more ideas.
Let me now share some updates on our ongoing efforts to better meet the housing needs of lower-income and vulnerable families as well as seniors.
Support for Families and Individuals Staying in Public Rental Flats
First, our efforts to support those staying in public rental flats.
Helping Rental Families Progress to Home Ownership
Many rental families I have met have shared with me their hope to own a home and provide a better environment for their children.
It is also our hope for them to realise this aspiration, and we have various measures to support them. They can tap on generous grants for their flat purchase, such as the Enhanced CPF Housing Grant for First-Timer families and the Step-Up CPF Housing Grant for Second-Timer families. In addition, the Fresh Start Housing Scheme helps Second-Timer families with young children in public rental to own a home again.
Since June 2019, tenants who have made a downpayment for a new flat will not have their rent increased for the rest of their stay in rental housing. They can put the savings towards their upcoming new homes, or other needs. About 350 rental households have benefited so far, with median rent savings of about $150 per month.
They can also get one-to-one guidance on home ownership from HDB’s Home ownership Support Team, or we call it HST, which was established in December 2019. In the past year, HST has assisted 654 rental households. Among them, 50 have booked flats, and 177 should be ready to apply for a flat in the next one to two years.
HDB will also work closely with MSF and other partners under Community Link, or ComLink, to provide coordinated support to our rental families.
One family who has moved from their rental flat to a new flat with HST’s support is Mr Irman, his wife, and their three children. They were staying in a 1-room flat at Bedok since 2005. The Family Service Centre referred the family to HST in September 2019. HST guided Mr Irman and his wife closely, from understanding their housing budget and options, and applying for the flat, to key collection and settling into their new home. The family moved into their new 3-room flat in Bedok in June 2020.
I would like to encourage all rental families that owning a home is achievable, with their individual effort complemented by support from the community and Government. Many rental families have already moved on to home ownership. a. In the past five years, about 4,600 rental households have moved into their own homes. Another 2,000 are waiting for the flats that they have booked to be completed.
Keeping our HDB Blocks and Neighbourhoods Inclusive
Mr Louis Chua asked about the supply of public rental flats. We currently have enough supply for households who need them. We will continue building a small number of new rental flats to replace older blocks that are redeveloped, and gradually renew our stock of rental flats.
Designing our HDB blocks and neighbourhoods to be inclusive, where Singaporeans regardless of background live together and share common spaces, continues to be an important part of how we will build a stronger, more caring, and more cohesive society.
Therefore, we will integrate new rental flats that HDB builds with sold flats in the same BTO projects, including in prime areas. Where feasible, we will build them in the same blocks too. The first such mixed block is located at Marsiling Greenview, which was completed in June 2018. Feedback from residents living in both rental and sold flats have been largely positive.
Support for Large Families in Public Rental Flats
Mr Lim Biow Chuan and Mr Chong Kee Hiong raised concerns about large families staying in public rental flats and asked if we can provide larger flats. This was also discussed at the ESC I attended. We understand these concerns.
Families with three or more persons living in a 1-room flat can approach HDB to transfer to a 2-room flat. Families that form two nuclei, such as families with children, parents, and grandparents living together, can apply for another flat, and HDB will offer them a second rental flat in the same block where possible.
To better support large families staying in public rental flats, MND and HDB will also work with MSF under ComLink to offer 3-room rental flats to large families with children, on a case-by-case basis. At the moment, we have a very limited supply of such flats, so we will only be able to offer the flats to a small number of families, based on the families’ circumstances.
At the same time, all families with children living in public rental flats will receive holistic support under ComLink to enable them to achieve stability, self-reliance, and social mobility. For example, SSOs and community partners will engage the families to understand their needs, and connect them to programmes and services such as employment assistance and childcare services.
As far as possible, we aim to uplift them so that they can eventually buy their own home. HDB’s HST is part of the ComLink network, to guide these families in budgeting and planning for home ownership.
Pilot of Joint Singles Scheme Operator-Run Model
Mr Lim Biow Chuan, Mr Chong Kee Hiong, and Mr Louis Ng shared concerns about the Joint Singles Scheme, or JSS, for public rental. For example, some individuals face challenges in finding a flatmate to apply with, or in getting along with their flatmate. During the ESC, a few participants shared similar concerns. We understand the concerns, and have been looking at ways to improve the JSS.
To provide more privacy, HDB has been building new 1-room rental flats with partitions, including some that have internal doors to separate the sleeping areas. There are currently 705 such rental flats with pre-installed partitions. For older 1-room rental flats, HDB will install partitions at the tenants’ request. Interested tenants can contact HDB. HDB has installed partitions in about 530 existing rental flats so far.
Most single tenants are prepared to share a flat with a flatmate. Flat sharing enables companionship and mutual support, which is especially important for older tenants. It also allows us to help as many who need a public rental flat as possible, within our limited resources.
For those who have extenuating circumstances, such as medical conditions that make it unfeasible for them to share a flat, we are prepared to look into their requests to rent a flat alone.
To provide an additional option to singles who apply under the JSS, HDB will pilot a new model which will allow them to apply individually, without having to find a flatmate first.
In this new model, we will set aside a few floors in a few rental blocks and appoint social service agencies to manage the flats, including the flat sharing arrangements. The social service agencies will have better expertise to match singles of similar profiles, and to mediate disagreements that may arise. If necessary, they can also arrange for individuals to move to another flat.
The rents in this new model will be largely similar to the JSS rents, and tenants will be subject to the same eligibility conditions. HDB is working towards rolling out this pilot later this year, and we will share more details when ready.
Supporting Vulnerable Groups
We will continue to support the housing needs of other vulnerable groups, such as single parents and divorcees, who Ms Carrie Tan and Mr Louis Chua spoke about. Members who are aware of families or individuals who need assistance can refer them to HDB, and we will do our best to assist them, based on their circumstances.
HDB has also been working closely with MSF, social service agencies, and community partners in the PEERS Network to assist rough sleepers and help them to move to more stable housing.
Expanding Housing Options for Seniors
We have also been expanding housing options for seniors.
Update on Community Care Apartments
In December 2020, MND, HDB and MOH introduced the Community Care Apartments, or CCAs, a new assisted living typology that combines housing with care services and community living for seniors. I thank Members for their strong interest and strong support for this. Mr Xie Yao Quan and Mr Henry Kwek Hian Chuan spoke about the CCAs and asked about our future plans.
Let me briefly update on the first pilot project, Harmony Village at Bukit Batok, which was launched for sale in February 2021. We received a very positive response for these flats, with 706 applicants applying for 169 units. This encouraging response validates the consultative approach that agencies took on in developing the concept – from the design of the units and communal spaces, to the services to provide.
Seniors, caregivers and healthcare professionals provided valuable feedback during Focus Group Discussions we held in 2019. For example, we added design features such as the sliding partition to the flat, based on feedback that seniors appreciated the open layout but might desire more privacy at times.
Given the positive feedback and strong interest, we are studying plans for a second pilot site. We will share more details when ready.
With the pilots, we will monitor how the flat design and care services promote the well-being of seniors, both physical and socio-emotional, and support them to age in place. These pilots will help us to further improve the housing and care options for our seniors. We continue to welcome feedback from seniors, as well as their caregivers and family members.
Chairman, let me now say a few words in Malay.
Kesan pandemik COVID-19 begitu ketara ke atas kehidupan banyak warga Singapura, terutama sekali mereka yang kurang berkemampuan dan mudah terjejas. Saya kagum melihat ketabahan keluarga-keluarga ini mengharungi cabaran yang meninggalkan kesan terhadap pekerjaan, kesihatan dan kehidupan berkeluarga mereka. Pada masa yang sama, semangat kemasyarakatan kita juga menjadi lebih kukuh. Ramai individu dan pertubuhan telah tampil untuk membantu mereka yang memerlukan.
Pemerintah juga telah menyediakan pelbagai bantuan kepada golongan yang berpendapatan rendah. Contohnya, HDB telah memberikan rebat dan pengurangan sewa bulanan kepada mereka yang tinggal di flat sewa. Sekiranya anda mengenali sesiapa yang memerlukan bantuan, hubungi HDB atau Pejabat Khidmat Sosial, iaitu SSO, yang terdekat.
Untuk memberikan sokongan yang lebih padu kepada keluarga-keluarga yang besar dan tinggal di flat-flat sewa, MND dan HDB akan bekerjasama dengan Community Link atau ComLink, inisiatif yang dikendalikan MSF untuk menyediakan flat sewa tiga bilik kepada keluarga yang besar berdasarkan kes mengikut kes.
Pada masa ini, bilangan flat sewa tiga bilik yang ada, amat terhad. Oleh itu, kami hanya dapat menawarkan flat-flat tersebut kepada beberapa keluarga terpilih. Pilihan akan dilakukan oleh HDB dan MSF, berdasarkan kesesuaian dan keperluan keadaan keluarga-keluarga tersebut.
Pada masa yang sama, kesemua penyewa flat HDB yang mempunyai anak kecil akan menerima sokongan yang menyeluruh menerusi ComLink, untuk membantu mereka membina kehidupan yang stabil, berdikari serta meningkatkan mobiliti sosial mereka.
Sejauh mana yang mungkin, kami bertujuan untuk meningkat keupayaan mereka untuk berdikari sehinggalah mereka boleh memiliki rumah mereka sendiri.
Ramai anak-anak muda telah berkongsi aspirasi mereka untuk memiliki rumah sendiri kepada saya. Ada yang sudah mempunyai beberapa orang anak, dan mereka mahu menyediakan rumah yang lebih baik kepada keluarga mereka. Tentunya, memiliki sebuah rumah sendiri ialah pencapaian yang membanggakan dan membahagiakan.
Kami akan terus membantu mereka untuk mencapai aspirasi tersebut, dengan menyediakan pelbagai geran perumahan kepada pembeli flat kali pertama.
Selain itu, bagi keluarga yang tinggal di flat-flat sewa HDB, Unit Bimbingan Pemilikan Rumah iaitu HST bersedia untuk memberikan bimbingan secara peribadi tatacara untuk merancang dan membeli flat.
Bagi mereka yang telah membayar wang pendahuluan, HDB tidak akan menaikkan sewa bulanan mereka sepanjang tempoh mereka tinggal di flat sewa mereka.
Saya ingin memberi keyakinan kepada kesemua anak-anak muda yang sedang membina keluarga mereka bahawa impian untuk memiliki rumah mereka sendiri boleh tercapai dengan usaha yang gigih serta bantuan pemerintah.
Sir, working together with citizens, the community, and various partners, we remain committed to strengthen our support for vulnerable citizens, uplift lower-income families, and meet the housing needs of all Singaporeans.
Thank you, Mr Chairman.