The lone rangers of Dakota Crescent

Mr Bilyy Koh is the only one left in Block 12 in Dakota Crescent. The 62-year-old will likely be moving to a new rental flat later this month after renovation work is done. Meanwhile, he takes it upon himself to share the history of the estate with h
Mr Bilyy Koh is the only one left in Block 12 in Dakota Crescent. The 62-year-old will likely be moving to a new rental flat later this month after renovation work is done. Meanwhile, he takes it upon himself to share the history of the estate with heritage enthusiasts.ST PHOTO: NG SOR LUAN
Mr Bilyy Koh is the only one left in Block 12 in Dakota Crescent. The 62-year-old will likely be moving to a new rental flat later this month after renovation work is done. Meanwhile, he takes it upon himself to share the history of the estate with h
Ms Low Shuilin.

A few residents remain in estate slated for redevelopment after HDB grants them extension

Not all the lights have gone out at Dakota Crescent, which has been slated for redevelopment - a handful of households still call it home four months after the official deadline to move out.

The Housing Board has granted extensions where necessary. In an update to The Straits Times, HDB said more than 96 per cent of the 400 households there have moved out and seven of 17 blocks have been "gated up and locked".

The authorities previously said that the 17 rental blocks there would have to go as part of the Government's rejuvenation plans for ageing HDB estates.

The lone rangers include Mr Bilyy Koh, 62, who rolled off his daybed languidly to speak to The Straits Times as the sun set on the estate one balmy evening last month.

Mr Koh, who is unemployed, will likely be moving to a new rental flat later this month after renovation work is completed.

For now, as the only occupant of Block 12, he takes it upon himself to share the history of the 1958 estate with heritage enthusiasts who stream in.

 
 
 

HISTORY WORTH PRESERVING

I really hope it will be conserved because we have lost much of our early public housing history.

MS LOW SHUILIN, a childcare teacher, who has lived in Dakota Crescent for most of her life.

UNIQUE EXPERIENCE

It has been a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I am glad my children grew up here. We're lucky to have rented a flat in such a historic area.

MADAM RATIPAH AHMAT, who lived in a unit in Block 30 with her husband and three young children for five years.

"This is our heritage and a remnant of the old Kallang estate. It was beautifully designed by the Singapore Improvement Trust to house the poor. As a citizen, I would not like to lose this part of my history... and I want to be the last person to leave Dakota," he said.

Like Mr Koh, most of the remaining residents said they are waiting for their new homes to be ready.

Although the authorities had given residents an end-2016 deadline to move out, an HDB spokesman said: "For the remaining households, we have granted them an extension of stay, as they have asked for more time to carry out renovation works to their new homeownership flats."

She added that for their safety and well-being, HDB has advised them to move to their new homes as soon as possible. In the meantime, the area will continue to be maintained and HDB has also requested the police to step up patrols.

The authorities reviewing future plans for estate

Residents who indicated that they wanted to keep renting were given priority and their rents were not increased. They were given options of one- or two-room flats, including those in a new block in nearby Cassia Crescent, which was completed last year.

Residents could also choose to buy a new flat from HDB. Eligible first-timers received a Central Provident Fund relocation grant of $15,000 for families or singles jointly buying a place; lone singles received $7,500. Eligible tenants were also given a removal allowance of $1,000, upon moving to their new accommodation.

Another long-time resident who has yet to move out is childcare teacher Low Shuilin, 27. She lives there with her 25-year-old sister, who works in a bank, and her retired 60-year-old mother.

Ms Low said she had missed the original deadline to apply for a flat under HDB's relocation exercise because she thought she would be unable to afford it.

But with help from relatives and government grants, she and her mother now own a three-room flat in Cassia Crescent. The unit is almost ready and the family will be moving in the next few days.

Ms Low, who has lived in Dakota Crescent for most of her life, said: "I really hope it will be conserved because we have lost much of our early public housing history."

A conservation report has been submitted to the authorities to retain the blocks and turn the area into a mixed-use complex.

Mr Desmond Lee, Senior Minister of State for Home Affairs and National Development, said last year that the authorities' planners are open to looking at different ways in which the area can be redeveloped and rejuvenated while retaining its identity.

The Urban Redevelopment Authority's latest update to ST is that it is "reviewing the future plans for the estate and will share more details in due course".

Late last month, ST caught up with administrative officer Ratipah Ahmat, 29, on the day that she was moving with her family to Sengkang. She had lived in a unit in Block 30 with her husband and three young children for five years.

Armed with freshly taken pictures of her Dakota Crescent flat and plenty of memories, she said: "It has been a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I am glad my children grew up here. We're lucky to have rented a flat in such a historic area. We didn't think it would be so special and such a quiet, old-school respite.

"We will miss Dakota so much. I hope I can come back with my children's children one day and show them how Singapore's old flats used to look like."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 17, 2017, with the headline 'The lone rangers of Dakota Crescent'. Print Edition | Subscribe