Last of Joo Chiat's HDB blocks to go

This story was first published in The Straits Times on Oct 30, 2013

JOO Chiat could become the first all-private-property constituency in Singapore when its remaining four Housing Board blocks are demolished under the Selective En bloc Redevelopment Scheme.

Its Member of Parliament, Mr Charles Chong, said yesterday: "Within the next two or three years, all the four blocks will be resettled and Joo Chiat will be the only constituency where it is 100 per cent private property - condos and landed property - which makes it a bit different from the other constituencies."

The four HDB blocks along East Coast Road are 48 years old and have a total of 129 housing units.

These are home to 1 per cent of the single member constituency's 37,000 residents.

Mr Chong was speaking to journalists about the single member constituency (SMC) ahead of a ministerial visit by Acting Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Lawrence Wong on Nov 17.

One of the key challenges Mr Chong faces in Joo Chiat, which he won with 51 per cent of the votes in the 2011 General Election - a margin of 382 votes - is how best to help a growing group of asset-rich, cash-poor retirees in the ward, who are part of the 36 per cent of its population above 50 years old.

They are worried about rising health-care costs, and some have little savings and no income, yet receive little in government help because their property values are too high.

Mr Chong recalled that in 2011, a retired teacher living in a house said he received $100 in GST rebates, while the neighbour's son who owned a car and lived in a four-room HDB flat got close to $1,000.

"He told me, 'He's got a car, I'm a retiree with no job, and they say I am better off than him?'" said Mr Chong.

But when the MP suggested the retired teacher sell his house, he became upset and asked: "You want to force me out of my home and (make me) buy a flat in a strange area?"

So Mr Chong encourages these retirees to take up other options such as a reverse mortgage, which lets them take a loan against their property so that they can have some income while still living in their homes.

To help in other ways, the grassroots organisations have organised health-care workshops with Parkway East Hospital and have started a local befrienders programme to get elderly neighbours to support each other.

The high density of condominiums has also led to a strain on infrastructure such as parking shortages, said Mr Chong.

It is hard to add bus services due to the lower ridership and narrow roads.

A temporary halt on building new condominiums has helped, and the government agencies are working on expanding the roads, but Mr Chong wants the road expansion sped up and for Joo Chiat to get an MRT station.

The grassroots groups are turning to arts programmes to reach out to Joo Chiat's diverse community that includes more and more new citizens and foreigners.

They have expanded South Siglap Community Centre, which has partnered the National Arts Council, to become home to 24 arts and culture groups from dance to vocal performers.

As for the next polls, Mr Chong said: "I have to take care of their problems and try to make it easier for them. If you concentrate on that, the votes will take care of themselves later on."

This story was first published in The Straits Times on Oct 30, 2013

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