Rental flat boost for families with kids

For Mr Gurmit Singh and his family, who live in a two-room rental flat in Toa Payoh, the Fresh Start scheme and grant are like a "second chance".
For Mr Gurmit Singh and his family, who live in a two-room rental flat in Toa Payoh, the Fresh Start scheme and grant are like a "second chance".ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

Families with children in public rental flats will soon get more help to buy their own homes.

A Fresh Start Housing Scheme will be introduced to help second-timer rental households own a two-room flat. These are families who previously bought a flat but sold it and now live in a rental unit.

Announcing this scheme yesterday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said the two-room flats will come with shorter leases and stricter resale conditions, in order to make them more affordable.

He described this group of households as "more tricky to help", as they have enjoyed Housing Board subsidies before and might find it tough to afford another flat.

"Also, these households often have many different problems - jobs, relationships, children's education, sometimes drugs.

"I am very concerned about the future of this group because, without help, they may be permanently out of reach of getting a flat of their own. And they will be trapped in poverty and their children will be affected."

There will also be a Fresh Start Housing Grant to help such families purchase their new flat, along with counsellor support. But the grant is "not without conditions", and will be given only if the families show they are determined to get back on their feet, said Mr Lee. "It shows our philosophy - that in Singapore, we will help you, but you must help yourself, and we don't want anybody to be left behind."

He also noted that Malays are "over-represented" in public rental flats, and was concerned about their future and their children.

Senior social worker Alvin Chen, 34, called the Fresh Start scheme and grant a "practical solution".

He said: "Owning a flat would give them stability and a sense of achievement. It would encourage them with a new headstart to work hard and keep owning their flat."

Rental households who have not owned a flat before will also benefit, Mr Lee said, pointing to the Housing Board's new Two-Room Flexi Scheme, which offers shorter lease options for elderly households. The doubling of the maximum Special CPF Housing Grant will also render two-room flats more affordable, he said.

All this is good news for tenants like Mr Gurmit Singh, who is 60. He lives in a two-room rental flat in Toa Payoh with his wife, who is a part-time babysitter, and two teenage daughters. They used to own a three-room unit in Serangoon, but moved out in 2009 after struggling to pay their mortgage.

"This is like a second chance," said Mr Gurmit, who is unemployed owing to a medical condition. "Without help, people like me won't be able to move out. It is really for the children. We want a more conducive environment for them to grow up in." But he hopes the scheme can include three-room flats. "I can't afford it now, but I dream of owning a bigger flat."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 24, 2015, with the headline 'Rental flat boost for families with kids'. Print Edition | Subscribe