SINGAPORE - When Madam Arsalinah Mohamed Arsad moved into her two-room rental flat at Marsiling Greenview in 2018, she thought the Housing Board had given her the wrong address.
"Rental flats don't typically look like this. There's a store room and wrought iron gates. I thought, this can't be true - it felt like I was moving into a flat I owned," the 42-year-old part-time cleaner told The Sunday Times.
Her block - Block 182A in Woodlands Street 13 - is one of two completed integrated blocks that mix both rental and purchased flats. It is located in the Marsiling Greenview Build-To-Order (BTO) project.
The other is Block 468B at West Plains @ Bukit Batok, although all 35 rental units on levels 2 to 8 were vacant when ST visited on Saturday.
The Ministry of National Development said that rental households are expected to move in within this year.
The rental units have the same exterior and are indistinguishable from the purchased flats. On each level, five out of 13 units are rental flats. Most of the owned units in the integrated block were occupied.
Sociologists interviewed said that such integrated blocks are a step in the right direction, although it must be paired with equal opportunities.
Singapore University of Social Sciences associate professor Leong Chan-Hoong said rental units are grouped with smaller housing types such as three-room flats, which is helpful.
"The contrast in housing status is less salient, and the residents' economic status is more comparable," he said.
National University of Singapore sociologist Tan Ern Ser said being in close proximity means increased opportunities for building neighbourly ties, although much depends if there are pre-existing prejudices before neighbours encounter one another.
Singapore Management University sociology professor Paulin Straughan said: "We hope that social support groups will form as friendships are forged, and those in poor circumstances will find strong support amongst their neighbours. In most cases, once friendships are established, the neighbours will look out for one another."
The experience of living outside rental clusters could also spur young rental households to aspire towards home ownership, she said.
For Madam Arsalinah, who lives with her husband and two secondary school-aged children, the integrated block is a far cry from Buangkok, where she lived in a one-room rental flat for eight years.
"There was lots of quarrelling, drug cases, and urine in the lift. It's not a safe environment for my kids. So far, there is none of that here," she said, adding that her only gripe was high-rise littering.
While those in rental flats expressed largely positive sentiments, opinions were mixed among those living in purchased flats in the same blocks.
Mr Rafi Yacob, 32, a technician who lives in a three-room purchased flat in Woodlands, said that he could not wait to move out when he completes the minimum occupation period in two years.
"It's not a good environment for my kids. The police always go to the rental units because of noise or quarrels between neighbours," he said.
Retired marine claims adjuster Tina Chua, 66, who lives in a two-room purchased unit with her husband, said she greets her rental neighbours in the lift lobby.
"The rental families come and go, but it doesn't matter to us. Those who aren't civic conscious aren't limited to a certain type of flat," she said.