Demand for interim rental flats under HDB scheme doubled last year amid BTO construction delays

Ms Joslyn Chua and her husband Jowee Ng in their two-room flat in Canberra which they got under the Parenthood Provisional Housing Scheme. ST PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG

SINGAPORE - Demand for interim rental Housing Board flats almost doubled last year as more families were affected by construction delays to Build-To-Order (BTO) units due to the pandemic.

The board received 2,350 applications under the Parenthood Provisional Housing Scheme (PPHS) compared with 1,370 in 2019, said the Ministry of National Development (MND) in a written parliamentary reply on Tuesday (May 11).

But there were only 160 available flats last year so most applicants were not able to get a unit.

The PPHS provides interim housing to households awaiting the completion of their new flats with units allocated by ballot.

Rents range from $400 for a two-room flat in Marsiling, $600 for a three-roomer in Hougang and $1,500 for a four-room unit in Tiong Bahru.

While application numbers have increased, the MND said not all may be in urgent need of temporary housing or some may have sought other options as about 40 per cent of successful applicants did not turn up for flat selection.

Food technologist Jowee Ng, 29, and wife Joslyn Chua, 26, an engineer, consider themselves to be "one of the lucky ones" after they landed a PPHS unit on their fifth try.

"Honestly, we were already thinking of giving up if we failed on the fifth try and just renting a flat on the open market because we've seen how crazy high the PPHS application rates were. We were quite surprised we got it," said Mr Ng.

They moved into their two-room flat in Canberra last month and have spent around $6,000 on furnishings. The monthly rent is $400, excluding utility bills.

They plan to live there until their BTO flat in Tengah is ready in 2023.

"We were previously living separately and met only on weekends. Now that we're living together, we have a better understanding of each other's habits at home and even developed new hobbies such as gardening together," said Mr Ng.

"It's small but cosy and it feels like home. It's good practice before the real deal comes along."

Married couples made up 66 per cent of the 2,350 applications last year while couples applying under the fiance/fiancee scheme comprised 31 per cent.

The remaining 3 per cent were from applicants who are divorced or widowed with children.

The supply of PPHS flats is limited and depends on the availability, such as units in vacated blocks that are not immediately needed for redevelopment.

There are about 110 two-room, 570 three-room, and 60 four-room flats under the PPHS across Singapore.

The HDB said it is working towards a more stable supply and giving wider options for families needing temporary housing.

Construction delays to BTO developments have increased the demand for such flats.

About 85 per cent of the 89 ongoing BTO projects are around six to nine months behind schedule, affecting about 43,000 households.

These projects are now expected to be delayed by a further three months as bans on new arrivals from countries like India and Bangladesh have exacerbated the manpower crunch in the construction sector.

Operations administrator Siti Amirah Ramli, 26, and her fiance Amir Nurhasan Kamarudin plan to apply for a PPHS unit in July before their October wedding, but are concerned they will miss out.

Couples applying under the fiance/fiancee scheme must submit their marriage certificate to the HDB within three months of taking possession of a PPHS flat.

The couple's BTO flat in Tengah will be ready only at the end of next year.

Ms Amirah said they are thinking about a plan B if their application falls through. She said: "Rent on the open market is too costly for us to manage and we also wouldn't want to spend so much just to fund a temporary home.

"We could rent a single room, instead of a whole unit, but this means living with strangers so we are not keen. Perhaps we'll live with relatives or live separately for some time."

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