More inclusive housing policies needed for single parents: Aware

Feedback from single mums prompts Aware to suggest housing rule changes

Women rights group Aware has released several recommendations on how the Government can help single parents get better access to public housing.

Aware gathered feedback from 55 single mothers, most of whom are divorced. Of these, 38 had attempted to apply for a rental flat, but 18 exceeded the income cap of $1,500.

At a press conference yesterday, Aware recommended an income cap based on the number of members in the household, in line with other public assistance schemes.

For example, the income ceiling cap for the ComCare Short-to-Medium Term Assistance is a monthly household income of $1,900, or a per capita income of $650.

Aware also suggested changing the debarment rule, which prohibits anyone who has owned an HDB flat from applying for a rental unit until 30 months after the sale of the apartment. Five respondents were denied rental housing because of this rule.

Aware's head of advocacy and research Jolene Tan said: "The debarment rules are intended to prevent property speculation and should not apply to those who need homes due to changed life circumstances."

In response to Aware, the Ministry for National Development said it will take the findings into consideration as it reviews its policies. It said it exercises flexibility to help single parents. (See report below.)

But the Government's "case-by-case" policy has led to additional stress for the respondents, according to Aware's study. It found that single parents are usually advised to seek their MP's help when faced with housing difficulties, but results were mixed - 21 out of the 38 respondents who approached their MP were unsuccessful with getting help.

In Parliament last week, MP Louis Ng asked for the statistics of rental flat applicants who earned above the income cap.

In a written reply, National Development Minister Lawrence Wong said that between 2014 and last year, about 1,900 households requested for a waiver of the income ceiling criterion.

A total of 273 applications were approved, while the other applicants were assessed to be able to afford other housing options, or had family support.

Mr Ng said he has seen several cases of divorcees with various housing woes over the past year.

He added that the large quantity of rental flat applications might have resulted in a compromise of "quality" when the authorities assess the appeals.

Sociologist Tan Ern Ser noted that the current "case-by-case" policy can be tedious and costly from the point of view of both administration and applicant.

"For the latter, the uncertainty also adds to the pain and anxiety. It is possible that some may abuse the system," she said.

"There is obviously some risks, but being able to provide shelter and stability to a child is a worthy investment in itself."

Ms Carrie Tan, executive director of Daughters of Tomorrow, explained that housing stability has a big impact on a mother's emotional and financial state, and could compromise their children's welfare.

The charity supports underprivileged women by preparing them for employment.

Ms Tan said some mothers who live in rental flats find it difficult to hold a full-time job because they are worried about leaving their children at home.

"Even if we are able to make some progress with them (in terms of employment), we continuously face setbacks that could be caused by (their) housing-related issues," she added.

Single families are being helped: MND

In response to Aware's report, the Ministry of National Development (MND) said that as a general rule, housing policies aim to address the needs of Singapore Citizen households, without undermining self-reliance and family support.

The ministry also highlighted some ways it is helping single families.

For instance, divorced or widowed parents with care and control of their children are recognised in housing policy as a family nucleus, similar to a family nucleus with married parents.

Divorced or widowed parents with children below the age of 16 are given priority in build-to-order exercises, to buy 2- or 3-room flats in non-mature estates, through the Assistance Scheme for Second-Timers.

"However, we recognise that our policies may not address every circumstance. Therefore, on a case-by-case basis, we do exercise flexibility to help single parents, including single unwed parents, with their housing needs," an MND spokesman said.

This article was first published on Feb 16, 2017.
Get The New Paper for more stories.