Single parents: MP to file housing petition

Unwed and divorced parents in Singapore currently have limited access to housing options, but Nee Soon GRC MP Louis Ng hopes to change that with a parliamentary petition he is filing on Monday.

The petition calls for amendments to the Housing and Development Act to rule out discrimination based on marital status.

Mr Ng hopes the proposed changes will result in two changes to housing policy. First, to recognise unmarried parents and their children as a family nucleus so they are eligible for public housing schemes. And second, to remove debarment periods preventing divorced parents from renting from the HDB or owning subsidised flats.

Mr Ng told The Straits Times: "If we say that we cannot discriminate based on marital status within the Act itself, policies will have to change too."

Housing, he said, "is a basic right".

He pointed to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which Singapore is a party to. Article 27 says states should help parents provide for children, "particularly with regard to nutrition, clothing and housing", while Article 2 says the child's rights must be ensured regardless of his parents' marital status.

"We must remember that there are children involved here. No matter what led to the parent becoming a single parent, the child has got nothing to do with it," he said.

Mr Ng also suggested that the Housing Board develop clear rules on its housing policy for single parents. He cited a written answer by the Ministry of National Development in April, which said that from 2014 to last year, HDB received appeals from 100 unwed parents under 35 to buy flats, and 300 appeals from unwed parents above 35 to rent a flat. About a fifth of both types of cases were approved.

He urged that the approval guidelines be used as a benchmark. "Rather than a discretionary 'case-by-case basis', why not we set rules? A lot of frustration on the ground is also because of this case-by-case discretion."

Mr Ng, who became an MP in 2015, said his support for single parents stemmed from the cases he sees at Meet-the-People Sessions.

At present, a single parent's only housing option is to buy a flat under the Singles Scheme after turning 35. For divorced parents, those who have owned an HDB flat cannot rent from the HDB for 30 months after their flat is sold. Divorcees also face a three-year debarment, during which only one party can own a subsidised flat.

Mr Ng noted that some people spend all their money renting on the open market as a result. "By the time it ends, they have no money to buy a flat."

The petition he is presenting on behalf of seven Singaporeans comes at a time when divorce rates are climbing - there were 7,614 divorces and annulments last year, up by 1.2 per cent from 2015.

He hopes Parliament will refer the petition to the Public Petitions Committee for further discussion.

Separately, women's rights group Aware has also organised a petition on the same topic. It collected 8,024 signatures from Singaporeans from May to July 1, and intend to present it to a minister.

Besides the issues of family nucleus and debarment, Aware is also pushing to raise the $1,500 monthly income cap so more families qualify to rent flats from HDB directly.

Said Aware's head of advocacy and research Jolene Tan: "Our housing policies must support all parents and children in their striving for stable family lives, if Singapore is truly to become a child-friendly and family-centric society as the Prime Minister emphasised at the National Day Rally."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 07, 2017, with the headline 'Single parents: MP to file housing petition'. Print Edition | Subscribe