Accommodate single parents in housing policies, urges Aware

Ms Rene shares her parents' one-room rental flat with an adult nephew and her sons Mohd Haiman Razin (left) and Nor Hizamie Razin. The family has lived there since mid-2012. Her application for a rental flat was turned down but she hopes that HDB wil
Ms Rene shares her parents' one-room rental flat with an adult nephew and her sons Mohd Haiman Razin (left) and Nor Hizamie Razin. The family has lived there since mid-2012. Her application for a rental flat was turned down but she hopes that HDB will let her rent until her income is stable enough to commit to buying a flat.ST PHOTO: NG SOR LUAN

The Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware) is calling for housing policies in Singapore to be amended to be more inclusive of single parents.

This follows an Aware study released yesterday, in which 21 of the 55 single mothers interviewed could not get public housing, despite help from an MP.

The majority of the women in the study, conducted between May 2015 and February last year, were divorced, with six of them unwed mothers.

In response, the Ministry of National Development (MND) said that it recognises that its "policies may not address every circumstance" but said that it does, on a case-by-case basis, "exercise flexibility to help single parents, including single unwed parents".

Aware said it recognises that its sample size "does not comprehensively reflect nationwide demographics of divorce or single parenthood, as respondents were found through Family Service Centres and word-of-mouth referrals".

But the cases illustrate the barriers that these women faced in accessing public housing, "a situation often compounded by their problems with employment, finances and childcare", it said.

Aware noted that in one case, an MP wrote 25 letters to the Housing Board on behalf of a single mother.

The women end up staying with extended family in cramped conditions that they say are not conducive to their children's well-being.

Ms Rene Marlina, 37, who works part-time as a basic care assistant in a hospital, moved into her parents' one-room rental flat in mid-2012 while going through a divorce.

She has been living there since, with her two sons, aged eight and nine, and a 22-year-old nephew.

Eighteen of the mothers in the Aware study said that their salary exceeded the income cap for renting, which is $1,500 a month.

Aware has suggested using a per capita income of not more than $650 a month instead - similar to the criterion for public assistance.

It made four other recommendations: lift debarment periods for rental housing and HDB flat purchases for single parents; treat an unmarried mother and her children as a family nucleus; create a unit to serve single-parent households; and allow HDB to enforce court orders for sale of matrimonial flats.

MND said it will take Aware's findings into consideration.

It also detailed schemes available to single-parent households, including the priority given to "divorced or widowed parents with children below age 16 in BTO (build-to-order) exercises... through the Assistance Scheme for Second-Timers (Assist)".

Ms Rene's application for a rental flat was turned down because she has money in her Central Provident Fund account and she was told to buy a flat instead. But she hopes that HDB can be flexible and let her rent until her income is more stable.

She said: "I don't want to be like, 'Okay, I buy a flat', but one or two years down the road, we don't know what's going to happen. I may not be able to pay... I'm not asking for a three-room flat. I just want a roof over my head, over my children's heads - a roof of our own."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 16, 2017, with the headline 'Accommodate single parents in housing policies, urges Aware'. Print Edition | Subscribe