Make public rental housing available to under 21s too

HDB flats around Ang Mo Kio.
HDB flats around Ang Mo Kio.PHOTO: ST FILE

The Housing Board recently announced that it will be more flexible on the income criteria for eligibility to rent flats under the Public Rental Scheme. This is a welcome development.

Such flexibility will benefit single parents who do not earn enough to afford private flats.

In interviewing 55 single mothers in 2016, the Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware) found that 38 had attempted to apply for rental housing. Among these, almost half (18) faced difficulties because they earned more than $1,500 a month.

Many resorted to renting from the pricier open market, which depleted their financial reserves.

The team at Aware and I hope the same flexibility will be extended to the age criteria. Currently, applicants for public rental housing have to be at least 21 years old.

Aware's Support, Housing and Enablement Project provides rent-free housing for single-parent families for two years. There are currently nine families living in four apartments.

In my work with Aware, we have seen a number of young single mothers who applied but failed to qualify for public rental housing because they were under 21.

Living with their family is not an option for many of these women due to family violence, space constraints and/or estrangement.

Some of them grew up in welfare shelters and have not lived with their families for many years.

Without affordable and stable housing in the present, it is difficult for them to find the energy, time and resources to plan for the future.

In Hong Kong, the minimum age criteria for public rental housing is 18. HDB should consider lowering the criteria to this age level.

Public rental housing can be a lifeline for those who need urgent access to affordable and stable housing.

The Government should ensure that this public resource is accessible to all who need it, including young single mothers who have nowhere else to go.

Chong Ning Qian

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 05, 2019, with the headline 'Make public rental housing available to under 21s too'. Print Edition | Subscribe