Older rental blocks to get better ventilation and natural lighting

Neighbours Teo Geok Lan, 61, (right) and Leong Lye Chan, 57, at an empty area where a one-room unit used to be on the fifth floor at Block 217 Ang Mo Kio Avenue 1. The new open space allows more light and air to enter the corridor. ST PHOTO: GAVIN FOO

SINGAPORE - In the 1980s and 1990s, housewife Leong Lye Chan, 57, would squint hard while walking along the dark and gloomy corridors of the HDB block where she rents a flat.

She would perspire as she waited in the muggy corridors for her son after school.

In 2004, both ventilation and lighting at Madam Leong's Block 217 in Ang Mo Kio Ave 1 improved significantly following changes made by the Housing Board.

Another rental block that was improved under the pilot programme was Block 1 in Holland Close.

Following the pilot, the HDB will do the same at other older rental blocks that were built in the 1960s and 1970s in such areas as Bukit Merah, Kallang and Bedok to make the blocks liveable as they age. Those places house the majority of older rental blocks, and the refurbishment will start in 2020.

A rental block typically has one- or two-room flats along both sides of a central corridor. Save for sunlight and wind squeezing into the corridor through open spaces at the lift and stair landings, the corridor is mostly unlit.

To improve the buildings' ventilation, the HDB will undertake works to create more openings along the corridors, by removing some flats on each floor of the rental blocks, said Senior Parliamentary Secretary for National Development Sun Xueling on Thursday (March 7) when she announced the plans in Parliament during the debate on her ministry's budget.

The tenants living in the affected units will be moved to similar units in the same building or nearby rental blocks.

"HDB will work closely with local organisations and the relevant agencies to ensure a smooth transition," she added.

Ms Sun also responded to Mr Lim Biow Chuan (Mountbatten), who asked for the number of rental blocks that will undergo the improvement works.

Nationwide, the HDB manages about 230 rental blocks, but lighting and ventilation improvement works will be for the blocks built in the 1960s and 1970s that have long corridors with flats on both sides, she said.

"We will be identifying the blocks and we will release more details in due course. We are looking to start preparation for the improvement works later this year."

While tenants from Block 217 and Block 1 gave positive feedback about the pilot in 2004, the works were not extended to other blocks, in view of the rental demand and supply situation at the time, said an HDB spokesman.

For Madam Leong's Ang Mo Kio block, two columns of one-room flats were removed near both ends of the wide 10-storey rental block. Before the pilot, only the centre of the building had openings for air and light to enter.

Now, each floor is lined with 24 rental units with two 5m-wide open spaces near the ends to facilitate cross-ventilation.

"Last time, the corridor was too dark. When people walked past us, we couldn't see them. Now, it's better because older people can see and hold the handrails while walking. It's also more airy," said Madam Leong, who has been living in her one-room rental flat for 32 years, with her 31-year-old son.

Families also use the 30 sq m open spaces to dry their laundry, store their wheelchairs and bicycles, and chat with their neighbours.

Madam Leong added: "Every afternoon, I sit with my neighbours around a foldable table to chat about life and drink tea. Then, we return to our houses at 4pm to cook dinner for our families."

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