THE Housing Board's plan to make life easier for elderly residents has got off to a muted start in the two pilot towns where it has been launched.
Only about 120 out of the 16,000 eligible households in Kallang/Whampoa and Bukit Merah have gone for the heavily subsidised ramps, grab bars and non-slip tiles offered under the Enhancement for Active Seniors (Ease) scheme.
These two towns were selected by the HDB as they had the highest number of homes with residents aged 65 and above.
Yesterday, HDB officer Lau Kim Soon said during a site visit that the low figures were due to a lack of awareness among the elderly about the details of the plan.
Mr Lau added that the board would be stepping up its efforts to engage them.
The numbers tell a different story in Bedok North where, unlike in the other two towns, the Ease plan is offered together with the Home Improvement Programme (HIP) aimed at fixing problems in older flats.
About 68 per cent of the 691 households that went for the HIP in Bedok North also opted for Ease.
The difference between the two offerings is that residents in Kallang/Whampoa and Bukit Merah had to apply directly to the HDB to benefit from Ease, while the households in Bedok North had exhibitions at the affected blocks and officers explaining the scheme to them.
Also, households that apply for Ease directly through the HDB need to have a family member who is aged 70 and above, while the age criterion does not apply to the other combined scheme.
However, at least 75 per cent of the households offered the joint scheme need to agree to it before it goes through.
Mr Lau said: "We know the numbers are not very encouraging and there's a language barrier for some elderly residents, but we have been ramping up awareness efforts by setting up booths at community events."
Some HDB officers are also carrying around iPads that have slideshows on Ease in the four official languages and five commonly spoken dialects including Cantonese, Teochew and Hokkien.
Mr Lau said that HDB has also received some 190 direct applications from elderly residents in other estates.
These are usually forwarded by voluntary welfare organisations, hospitals and grassroots leaders, and are approved on a case-by-case basis.
"It's a cheap way to enhance the lives of seniors, so ideally we want to help as many people as possible," said Mr Lau.
One beneficiary of direct application is Whampoa resident Leong Choy Leong, 75, who suffered a stroke in 2010.
Mr Leong paid $37 for 10 grab bars to be installed around his house and to have his bathroom tiles given the anti-slip treatment.
The Government subsidises 95 per cent of Ease, and it can cost up to $250 for an executive flat opting for all three items.
"The grab bars have made it easier for us to move around the house," said his wife, Madam Low Kwi Yong, 75.
"While it might take two people to move him to the toilet in the past, now it just takes one."
Ease is expected to cost about $260 million and benefit 130,000 HDB households.