Geylang landed homes to make way for HDB flats

Madam Koh Peck Choon at her home in Geylang Lorong 3, on Oct 29, 2020. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

SINGAPORE - In a first for residential properties in Singapore, 191 two-storey terrace houses at Geylang Lorong 3 that are set to be returned to the State upon their lease expiry will be demolished to make way for future public housing.

Demolition works are due to start in the third quarter of next year and will be completed by the first quarter of 2023, according to tender documents seen by The Straits Times.

The 37 families living there are expected to hand back their homes to the Singapore Land Authority (SLA) by the end of this year with no compensation.

These houses were sold in 1960 on a 60-year lease which will expire on Dec 31 this year.

"As a general policy, leasehold land will return to the State upon lease expiry to allow the land to be rejuvenated to meet the changing social and economic needs of Singaporeans," said the SLA, in response to queries from The Sunday Times.

Asked about the future public housing plans for the area, the Housing Board said it was unable to provide more details.

Of the 37 families, 30 have found alternative housing.

The other seven are "considering renting another property in the interim," said SLA.

"SLA will continue to provide assistance to the owner-occupants with their transition to their new homes," it said.

Five units have been voluntarily returned to the State by families who have already moved out. The remaining 149 units are mainly rented out to foreign workers and for religious activities.

SLA said it has worked with the Ministry of Manpower to contact the employers of the foreign work pass holders to make relocation arrangements for workers who live there.

Madam Yeo Ai (left) packing her house with the help of her daughter Ms Joyce Koh (centre), and their domestic helper Entin, on Nov 21, 2020. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

Occupants who conduct religious activities there have been advised to consider co-locating with religious organisations operating in other areas or rent suitable spaces in commercial or industrial premises.

Those who need help to relocate altars and deities should contact their respective apex religious groups for assistance, said the SLA.

In June 2017, the SLA announced that the 2ha plot of land would be returned to the State with no extensions.

These homes were built by the Government to house people displaced from attap houses in the nearby Kampung Kuchai that had been destroyed in a big fire in the 1950s.

Long-time resident Yeo Ai, 79, said her parents paid about $4,850 for the unit, which they bought first-hand from the Government.

This is the first time a residential plot of land in independent Singapore has reached the end of its lease.

The 70-year leasehold private houses in Jalan Chempaka Kuning and Jalan Chempaka Puteh, near Tanah Merah, are the next in line to reach expiry, in 2034.

There are at least two other private residential estates - Fuyong estate in Bukit Timah and Rifle Range Road - with less than 40 years left on the lease.

Several long-time residents at Geylang Lorong 3 expressed sadness at having to move but most said they had expected this day to come.

Retired seamstress Madam Koh Peck Choon, 76, who inherited her unit from her parents and has lived there since the house was built, said she had grown accustomed to the place but is ready to move out as "the time is up".

The estate is not as lively as it was in its golden years as many neighbours have left, she said.

Her fondest memory was of the lighting of fire crackers during Chinese New Year in the 1970s.

Madam Koh, who is single, will be moving to a one-room rental flat in Whampoa within weeks. Under HDB's public rental scheme, the monthly rent for a one-room flat for first-time applicants who earn below $800 is between $26 and $33.

"It's a little sayang (pity) to leave because I won't be able to grow flowers outside my house anymore but there's no choice. The lease is up and I know we all have to move out eventually," she said.

Her only worry is about taking the lift to her flat on the seventh floor, having lived on the ground level all her life.

For Mr Sam Guam, 64, moving out of his unit will mean saying goodbye to the 12 chickens he has been rearing for the past three to four years.

In the day, the chickens roam freely in the grass patch behind his home and go back to their coops, just outside the back door of his unit, in the evening.

For Mr Sam Guam, moving out of his unit will mean saying goodbye to the 12 chickens he has been rearing for the past three to four years. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

He will soon have to give them away to farms and nearby schools as he cannot take them to his rental HDB flat.

But Mr Guam, who used to work as a camera assistant, is taking the move in his stride.

"In a way, I'm fortunate to be able to live here. Not many Singaporeans can live in a landed property like this. It's nice and cheap but the downside is that it doesn't last you a lifetime," he said.

On having to spend the rest of his retirement years in an HDB flat, he said stoically: "It's just life, you have to adapt to whatever comes your way."

" But if I strike Toto, then I'll go buy a private freehold property," he quipped.

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