In 2015, salesman Tan Chin Chye moved into an interim Housing Board rental flat in Siglap.
As a sole breadwinner supporting his wife and newborn daughter, he earned a salary of $2,500 and did not qualify for the long-term Housing Board rental scheme, which targets lower-income families.
For reasons unknown to him, his applications to buy an HDB flat were denied.
Feeling helpless, he all but gave up on getting a permanent home, and was resigned to staying in the temporary unit indefinitely. "I was trying my best, but there was no other option," said the 60-year-old.
Mr Tan's is among thousands of families that have stayed in Interim Rental Housing (IRH) since the scheme began in 2009.
The scheme - which houses over 800 households - allows cash-strapped families to live in vacated HDB blocks slated for demolition, while they work out permanent options. It was designed to house families temporarily - for about a year.
But a significant number are seeing longer stays, The Sunday Times has learned ahead of the closure of Project 4650. The project in Siglap, where Mr Tan stayed, is named after the two IRH blocks there. It closes in April due to redevelopment plans.
When there is high stress and unmet needs in everyday life, that, in turn, makes it more difficult to maintain stable employment. In the current context, it's very hard for them to break out of all this.
ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR TEO YOU YENN, head of sociology at Nanyang Technological University, on low-income families facing interacting social conditions that are difficult to overcome.
While the national average length of stay for IRH flats remains low at six months, among the more than 1,000 families that passed through Project 4650 since 2012, the average stay was about 16 months. Nine families - its longest-staying residents - stayed for around 58 months.
A check by The Sunday Times with 20 families living at a separate IRH site in Spooner Road revealed an average stay of around 21 months - close to two years.
Families said that while IRH provided a roof over their heads, a long stay is not ideal. The sense of instability from knowing they have to move once the building is up for demolition is a stress point. The lack of privacy - up to two families could share one three-room IRH flat - also causes discomfort.
Residents cited overlapping difficulties in finding permanent housing: health issues, financial problems and various obstacles to applying for a new HDB flat.
At Spooner Road, about half of the households interviewed said they were waiting to move into new HDB flats. The rest are in a state of limbo.
At Project 4650, about half of the households that have left have moved into more permanent rental flats. Another two in five have become home owners.
The rest - 13 per cent - have turned to other lodging, found families and friends to stay with, or have relocated to other IRH sites.
To find a lasting home for his young family, Mr Tan sought assistance from social workers. Working with one from social services organisation Pave, he learned that his applications for a new flat were denied because he had taken the maximum of two past HDB loans.
The couple worked out a plan to raise their income. They also made a successful appeal to HDB, and are now eligible to ballot for their own Build-To-Order HDB flat. For the time being, due to the closure of Project 4650, they are staying at another interim unit in Bedok.
Experts say the criteria for long-term options should be reviewed, so residents like Mr Tan are not made to jump through too many hoops.
National University of Singapore (NUS) research fellow Neo Yu Wei noted that the income ceiling for long-term rental flats is calculated based on total household income. She suggested using household income per member instead - to help more families, especially those with dependants.
With public rental housing kept below 7 per cent of the housing stock, NUS Associate Professor Irene Ng said: "The IRH might be catering to an overflow of families who need longer-term rental housing, either because they cannot afford a purchased flat, or because it takes them a long time to save and plan for one."
Nanyang Technological University's head of sociology Teo You Yenn said low-income families often face a range of interacting social conditions that are "extremely difficult to overcome".
"They are generally in low-wage and insecure jobs, with unpredictable schedules. It is difficult to balance such wage work with care responsibilities," she said. "When there is high stress and unmet needs in everyday life, that, in turn, makes it more difficult to maintain stable employment."
"In the current context, it's very hard for them to break out of all this," she said.
Part-time security guard Christopher, 50, who wants to be known just by his first name, has been a Spooner Road IRH resident for over two years. He and his wife earn $2,300 a month. They are struggling to pay for utilities and rent. While he wants to work longer hours to make more money, arthritis has made this impossible.
He frets about his future: "I don't know how long I can remain here... because I can't pay my rent, they may also chase me out."