Just one item on their 'wish-lift'

Madam Lim Puay Hua, 79, takes 30 minutes to get to the ground floor from her third-floor maisonette.

For 79-year-old Madam Lim Puay Hua, climbing up the four flights of stairs to her third-floor maisonette is a 30-minute ordeal.

She broke her leg and hurt her head in a fall two years ago and now needs the aid of a walking stick.

The elderly woman walks with her maid to the nearby wet market for grocery shopping twice a week, her only outings from the flat.

"When I reach home, I just collapse on the bed in exhaustion. I even lose my appetite," she told The New Paper in Teochew.

She recalled the times when she had to call for a private ambulance to go to the hospital for check-ups, which are about once every two months.

"They carried me on a stretcher down the stairs and it was scary. I even hoped that it would be the last time they had to carry me down," she said jokingly.

Madam Lim has lived in the maisonette with her son, who is in his 50s, for 25 years. She said she cannot afford to move out on her own and her son does not intend to move.

She and her neighbours could only look on enviously as a nearby maisonette block with 12 units went through the lift upgrading programme (LUP).

The Hougang Ave 8 resident lives in a 4-floor maisonette block with only eight units. It cannot be selected for the LUP as it would be too costly.

There are about 200 blocks islandwide that are unable to benefit from the LUP because of cost or architectural reasons, said MP Yeo Guat Kwang at the committee of supply debate last week.

A distance away in the same estate, residents at Block 363, Hougang Avenue 5, have a similar wish for lifts.

In their case, the unique layout of the block makes it not feasible to install extra lifts, the HDB said. The block is made up of three segments of staggered heights - 10, 12 and 14 floors high.

The HDB spokesman explained that installing lifts for the block exceeds the cost limit because of the extensive construction required.

But some residents, especially the elderly ones at this 22-year-old block, still hope that the block will be selected despite the LUP ending this year.

INCONVENIENT

Despite having lifts on every floor, some residents live in flats that require them to walk up or down to the nearest floor with a lift.

For example, Mr Goh Hock Keng, 65, lives on the 10th floor but has to take the lift to the ninth floor and walk up 16 steps to his flat.

The retiree, who lives with his wife, said in Mandarin: "Of course I wish we had a lift because we are getting older.

"My eyesight is failing and sometimes I'm worried that I'd miss a step.

"My wife goes to the market every day and she has to drag the trolley up the stairs slowly."

Madam Lim Mei San, 76, who lives on the second floor, complained of the 36 steps that she has to climb daily.

"I suffer from leg pain but I still need to go out. I go to church every day," she said.

Madam Lim finds it easier to take the stairs as taking the lift would mean walking a distance before reaching the stairs to her flat.

She recently caught the flu bug but does not feel like climbing the stairs to visit the doctor.

"I get a headache just looking at the stairs," said Madam Lim, who lives with her daughter and cannot afford to move out on her own.

The LUP, launched in 2001 and to be completed by the end of this year, has benefited residents of close to 5,000 blocks so far.

Last year, Minister of National Development Khaw Boon Wan blogged that during the initial stages of LUP, many blocks could not benefit because of technical constraints or high costs.

Elderly residents struggle as blocks not eligible for lift upgrading

HDB 'MINDFUL'

But after searching for innovative lift solutions, some 800 additional blocks were included in the LUP.

The Minister added that HDB is still "mindful" of the blocks without lift access at some floors.

"HDB will continue to look for new ideas and pilot new technology to try to make it feasible for lift access to reach these blocks in the future. We may or may not achieve it, but we will not give up trying," said Mr Khaw.

UPGRADING WOULD BUST $30,000 CAP: HDB

To upgrade the lifts at Block 363 Hougang Avenue 5, the HDB would have to pay almost double the maximum limit per unit under the Lift Upgrading Programme (LUP).

The HDB told The New Paper that it would have to construct three new lift shafts for the upgrading.

"Extensive service diversion, piling and construction works are needed to be carried out at the site," its spokesman said.

This would cost an estimated $50,000 for each of the 37 units, a sum which "far exceeds the cost limit of $30,000 per unit".

The Government subsidises up to 90 per cent of the total cost of LUP.

The eligibility for the LUP largely depends on the "technical feasibility and economic viability to achieve direct lift access".

Technical feasibility would mean new lift shafts for the existing blocks while complying with prevailing building and safety codes, explained the HDB spokesman.

"And given the magnitude of the LUP and the number of residents involved, HDB has the responsibility to ensure financial prudence in keeping to the cost cap," she added.

"We also want to keep the cost low for the residents so that each benefitting unit need not pay more than $3,000 for the upgrading."

linheng@sph.com.sg

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Elderly residents struggle as blocks not eligible for lift upgrading