Free housing for needy single mothers helps them get back on their feet: Study

The women's families' well-being improved as well, as they did not have to worry about securing a roof over their heads. ST PHOTO: BENJAMIN SEETOR

SINGAPORE - A radical initiative to provide free housing to low-income single mothers for up to two years has found that many of the women were able to find better-paying jobs as a result.

Their families' well-being improved as well, as they did not have to worry about securing a roof over their heads.

These were among the findings of a study of the Association of Women for Action and Research's (Aware) Support, Housing and Enablement (S.H.E) Project, which was piloted in 2018 and ended last year.

The initiative saw the gender-equality advocacy group provide single mothers with a place to stay for up to two years, to give them longer-term stability so they can get back on their feet.

Unwed mothers and women who are separated from their husbands were among the beneficiaries.

Aware, which on Wednesday (May 11) released the findings of the study, said other transitional housing programmes typically provide shelter for three to six months.

The group's head of research and advocacy, Ms Shailey Hingorani, said the project followed a 2016 study by Aware.

The study found that low-income single mothers faced several barriers that kept them from getting housing that is affordable, of reasonable quality and where they can stay for an extended period, instead of having to move frequently.

Aware's pilot project saw 18 women and 21 of their children live in four apartments, a mix of public housing and condominiums, where each family had a room.

The women also attended programmes run by Daughters of Tomorrow, a charity that helps underprivileged women.

The group helped them develop work-related competencies and financial literacy, among other things.

The women gave a nominal contribution of $10 per family member each month for their stay, which went to a common fund to cover household expenses.

The initiative was funded by donors but Aware declined to reveal the cost of the project.

A dozen women, who were beneficiaries of the project for more than six months, were the focus of Aware's study. They had all experienced family violence.

The study found that two-thirds of the women saw better job prospects and the median income among the women rose from $500 a month before they joined the project to $1,150.

The women said they were able to concentrate on finding and holding a job without worrying about paying rent.

The project helped the women exit their abusive or toxic relationships and gave them a space to heal emotionally and find support from other mothers who faced similar hardships.

The study found that their relationships with their children improved, and some of the women said their ties with their parents, siblings or other relatives did improve as well.

Before the project, they stayed with their extended families after leaving their partners but the crowded living environment often led to tension. The project gave them space and with that, some of the frayed relationships mended.

As a result, the women said they felt more at ease entrusting their children to their relatives' care when they were at work.

By the end of their stay in the project, three in four of the mothers managed to secure a highly subsidised Housing Board rental flat. The rest either rented a room on the open market or moved in with relatives or friends.

Radiah (not her real name), 38, has five children aged between five and 16. The housewife left her abusive husband after he threatened to kill her.

After she fled with her children, they moved in with her mother for a few months, but left after an argument.

Radiah and her children then stayed with her sister and her two children in a two-room flat, until she and her children became part of the Aware project.

She and her children stayed in the S.H.E apartment for almost two years.

In that time, she attended courses by Daughters of Tomorrow to boost her job prospects and eventually found a customer service job that pays her $1,900 a month.

She said: "Staying with someone else often leads to conflict and more stress, and so the Aware project was a big help. My kids were also happier and less stressed."

Radiah, whose divorce was finalised recently, has moved back in with her mother. She is waiting to sell her matrimonial flat and Aware is helping her to apply for a rental flat.

Aware executive director Corinna Lim said: "We know now that stable housing does make a tangible difference to so many other aspects of a family's life."

However, she added that many single-parent families continue to struggle.

Aware noted in its report that the minimum age to apply for an HDB rental flat is 21, which it said is a barrier for some unwed mothers below that age.

However, the report noted that HDB has exercised flexibility in handling such applications on a case-by-case basis.

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