Petition to review housing for single parents rejected

MND says it has no intention to amend law, introduce exemptions

A parliamentary petition calling for a reform of the public housing policy for single parents has been turned down.

Nee Soon GRC MP Louis Ng, who presented the petition on behalf of seven single parents, wants the authorities to recognise unmarried parents and their children as a family nucleus, so that they can be eligible for public housing schemes.

The petition, submitted to Parliament in September, was referred to the Public Petitions Committee, which asked the Ministry of National Development (MND) for a response.

The committee's report and the ministry's response were made public yesterday.

The ministry, which oversees public housing, said it has no intention to amend the law and introduce exemptions for unmarried and divorced parents.

It said the Government is committed to housing the nation, and ensuring the well-being of children.

But achieving these goals does not require special legislative exemptions for single parents, it said, adding that the Housing Board already exercises flexibility in appropriate cases.

HDB can also make changes at policy level, the ministry said. This does not require changing the law.

ENSURING KIDS' WELL-BEING

A range of government agencies work together to ensure that no child is without adequate housing, regardless of whether his or her parents are single or married.

MINISTRY OF NATIONAL DEVELOPMENT

The petition, which comes at a time when divorce rates are climbing, calls for housing rules to be more inclusive instead of having HDB grant exemptions on a case-by-case basis.

There were 7,614 divorces and annulments last year, up by 1.2 per cent from 2015. In 2015, 863 babies were born to unwed mothers, down from the 1,099 born in 2010.

The Association of Women for Action and Research, which submitted a statement supporting the petition, also made several suggestions.

These included letting divorced parents rent public housing or buy subsidised housing immediately after the matrimonial flat is sold.

Currently, divorced parents who own an HDB flat have to wait 30 months before they can rent from the HDB. Divorcees also face a three-year debarment, during which only one party can own a subsidised HDB flat.

The petitioners also wanted to remove debarment periods, which prevent divorced parents from renting from the HDB or owning subsidised flats.

In its reply, the MND also said it is mindful "not to undermine the prevailing social norm of parenthood within marriage" when helping unmarried parents.

The ministry added: "A range of government agencies work together to ensure that no child is without adequate housing, regardless of whether his or her parents are single or married."

Mr Ng told The Straits Times yesterday that he saw this as a positive statement, compared with "the usual statement on how single unwed parents are not eligible for public housing".

He plans to file a parliamentary question on the criteria single parents need to fulfil before their applications or appeals for public housing are approved.

"This would provide single parents with some assurance at least, that if they meet these conditions they'll get housing. Now, there's some uncertainty over this," he said.

Petitions like the one Mr Ng submitted are rare and so far, none has resulted in a legislative or policy change.

Nominated MP Kok Heng Leun had submitted a petition in July on behalf of 792 people to seek an alternative location for the Sungei Road market. In 2016, he submitted a petition to delay the passage of a Bill on contempt of court laws.

Back in 2007, NMP Siew Kum Hong submitted a petition to Parliament for the repeal of Section 377A of the penal code, which criminalises gay sex.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 30, 2017, with the headline 'Petition to review housing for single parents rejected'. Print Edition | Subscribe