A home of their own, for 3,000 tenants of rental flats

Mr Mohd Aszrin Ahmad is now a proud owner of a three-room Housing Board flat in Sembawang. He is seen here with his wife Tasha Ahrens, 42, and their children, Dean Joaquim, seven, and Sara Elizabeth, four.
Mr Mohd Aszrin Ahmad is now a proud owner of a three-room Housing Board flat in Sembawang. He is seen here with his wife Tasha Ahrens, 42, and their children, Dean Joaquim, seven, and Sara Elizabeth, four.ST PHOTO: NG SOR LUAN

After seven years in a small rental flat, Mr Mohd Aszrin Ahmad decided his family of five needed more space.

They first lived in a one-roomer in Holland Close before moving to a two-room flat in Clementi. Today, the quality engineer inspector is the proud owner of a three-room HDB flat in Sembawang. Mr Aszrin, 43, said: "This home is my heaven - it's where I can be with my family, who are happy and running around."

Mr Aszrin is among 3,000 rental flat tenants who bought their first homes over the last five years - a statistic revealed by the Housing Board yesterday. So far, more than 900 households have collected the keys to their new flats.

He and his 42-year-old wife share their bedroom with their four-year-old daughter, while his stepson, 21, and son, seven, sleep next door.

There is also a living room in which he stores medical equipment for his younger son, who was born with cri du chat syndrome - a rare disease that renders him unable to walk, eat or talk easily.

The journey to home ownership took a while. Mr Aszrin studied at night school and now earns $1,800 a month, compared with $1,050 when he was a logistics assistant.

He also chose a Build-To-Order (BTO) unit in a non-mature estate, where new flats are cheaper, so that he would not over-extend himself.

The Housing Board said that half of the 3,000 families bought a three-room flat, while about 30 per cent picked a two-room flexi flat, meant for elderly Singaporeans who want shorter leases.

The rest bought other flat types, such as phased-out studio apartments or four-room flats, though the HDB did not give a breakdown.

Under the public rental scheme, eligible needy families with a household income of up to $1,500 can rent flats at a highly subsidised rate. Rents start at $26 a month for a one-room flat and $44 for a two-room flat.

Home ownership, of course, comes at a steeper price. At the latest BTO launch earlier this month, the cheapest two-room flexi flat started from $71,000, though this can drop to $4,000 with grants.

Many families who made the leap to home ownership were aided by housing grants for first-timers - and priority schemes.

Eligible first-timer families who buy a flat from HDB can enjoy up to $80,000 in housing grants.

Those buying a resale flat from the open market can enjoy up to $110,000 in housing grants.

Eight in 10 former tenants took advantage of the Additional CPF Housing Grant, for families earning less than $5,000, and/or Special CPF Housing Grant, for families earning less than $2,250 who are buying homes in non-mature estates. Among these owners who took up the grants, 109 received the maximum housing grants of $80,000, including Mr Aszrin. In the end, he paid $87,000 for his flat.

Also, about 20 per cent of the 3,000 families booked a flat under the Tenants' Priority Scheme.

Under this scheme, 10 per cent of the flat supply in an exercise is set aside for eligible public rental tenants and other applicants affected by the Government's resettlement or redevelopment programmes, like the Selective En bloc Redevelopment Scheme (Sers).

National University of Singapore sociologist Paulin Straughan said it was good news that most former tenants could afford to buy three-room flats. But she noted that given that there are 56,000 rental units today, the number of those who progressed onto home ownership is still relatively small.

She suggested policies to help such owners service their mortgage during periods where their income may be disrupted.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on February 18, 2018, with the headline 'A home of their own, for 3,000 tenants of rental flats'. Print Edition | Subscribe