Moving out of Yishun: 6 things to know about President Halimah Yacob's jumbo flat

A view of the corridor leading to Madam Halimah Yacob's Yishun flat. PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

This article was first published on Sept 14, 2017, and updated on Oct 3, 2017.

SINGAPORE - Madam Halimah Yacob's fondness for her Yishun home is well documented - but she will soon be moving out of her family home due to security concerns.

The 63-year-old, who was sworn in as president on Sept 14, had said that she would not be moving out of her family home despite her elevated status.

"It is a very nice, comfortable place, and I have been living there for many years," she told reporters.

But on Monday (Oct 2), the Ministry of Home Affairs said after a careful assessment of security arrangements, it has informed Madam Halimah that "the security agencies face several challenges in ensuring her security and protection, if she continues to stay in her current home".

Madam Halimah has accepted the MHA's recommendations. It is not known yet where the President will be moving to.

However, she remains Singapore's first head of state to live in public housing while in office.

Here are six things to know about her flat and humble lifestyle.

1. Jumbo flat

A view of the carpark and void deck below Madam Halimah's Yishun block. PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

Madam Halimah and her husband Mohamed Abdullah Alhabshee bought the jumbo flat - comprising two adjacent five- and four-room flats with the dividing wall between them knocked down - in Yishun Avenue 4 more than 20 years ago on the resale market as she wanted to live near her mother.

She had jumped at the chance to buy both units when she heard the two sisters living there wanted to sell.

According to Mr Mohamed, the flat, which is in a 12-storey block built in 1987, is "as huge as a penthouse".

2. Good enough for Singaporeans, good enough for her

In a Straits Times interview shortly before she became Speaker of Parliament in 2013, Madam Halimah was asked if she would still live in her HDB flat.

Her reply? "More than 80 per cent of our population live in HDB flats and if it is good enough for them, it is good enough for me."

Living in public housing, according to Madam Halimah, has also given her a keen sense of the problems most Singaporeans face on a daily basis, such as when the lift breaks down or the estate is dirty.

With Yishun evolving into the mature and bustling estate it is today, her home is accessible to shops, the family doctor's clinic is nearby, public transport is convenient and Khoo Teck Puat Hospital is a short distance away.

3. Ample exercise

Another advantage for Madam Halimah to continue living in an HDB flat - it ensures she gets enough daily exercise, simply by walking up the six floors to her home after coming back from work.

If time permits, she will also use the stairs instead of the lift to walk down.

4. Connecting with neighbours

A humble person with no airs, Madam Halimah is a familiar and popular figure among her block's residents.

She recounted in a 2013 interview how she had a neighbour who was a very good cook and would make nice dishes for her family.

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Mr Lee Swee Seng, who runs the nearby provision shop, said Madam Halimah and her family have been his loyal customers for the past 17 years.

She is also a "friendly face in the lift", said newspaper vendor G. Dabamani, and would often ask her neighbours how they were doing.

"She is very friendly, humble and down to earth. She doesn't behave like a VIP," said long-time neighbour Henry Lim.

5. Lifetime of memories

Madam Halimah preparing food in the kitchen of her home in 2004. PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

To Madam Halimah, the concept of home is not merely a piece of property to be flipped for profit, but a "priceless repository of a lifetime of memories".

It is the only home for three of her five children, aged 26 to 36, and where several of them got married.

She also wanted to reinforce to them the importance of communal living and taking care of elders, with members of her family (including herself) doing their own chores.

6. Security stepped up

Security officers seen outside Madam Halimah's flat on Sept 12, 2017. ST PHOTO: NG SOR LUAN
A "Reserved for Police Vehicles" sign seen below Madam Halimah's block on Sept 13, 2017. PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

Given Madam Halimah's more important status, police have intensified security measures in the area, with experts saying that more officers and equipment - such as surveillance cameras - are likely to be deployed.

On the evening before Nomination Day, policemen in plain clothes were seen stationed at the foot of her block and patrolling the area.

Asked about security, Madam Halimah said: "I will leave it to the security department. I think they know how to secure the area."

On Friday (Sept 15), a day after she was sworn-in as president, a white awning was seen at the foot of the block where Madam Halimah lives.

The white awning at the foot of President Halimah Yacob's block extends from the void deck and covers a carpark space reserved for police vehicles. PHOTO: AZIZ HUSSIN FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

It extends from the void deck of the Yishun HDB block and covers a carpark space reserved for police vehicles, where the official President's car has been parked before.

Police declined comment, saying these were "security and operational matters".

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