Life in rental flats

SINGAPORE - When the family of six first moved into their two-room rental flat three years ago, the children complained.

"Not comfortable, nowhere to put our clothes. No privacy," Madam Zarinah Hassan, 49, said of their grouses.

They had been living in a three-room Yishun flat of their own for about 10 years, but eventually couldn't keep up with loan payments.

So they returned the flat to HDB and got their Ang Mo Kio rental unit in six months.

"Coming here, we didn't bring anything except clothes. Furniture like cupboards, chairs, tables - we gave to friends or threw away. It was sad to have to get rid of them, there was just no space," said the retired factory worker, whose husband does odd jobs.

Her two sons and two daughters, who are between 19 and 25 years old, sleep in the living room while she and her husband take the bedroom.

"It's quiet here, the neighbours are mostly working," she said.

When The New Paper visited on Monday evening, the only noise was that of her daughter, Miss Zurina, 22, and her friends, playing a dance game on their Wii console set up in one corner of the living room.

Madam Zarinah watched television in another corner of the room, sitting on a sofa which folds out as a bed for her children at night.

Miss Zurina said she was all right with the environment and the lack of sleeping space. But it was not easy to make do with only one toilet.

It was harder at the start, when all the siblings were studying and working, the Republic Polytechnic student said.

"We'd all go out about the same time, seven or eight in the morning. The night before, we'd have to plan who to go first. Sometimes we'd end up late."

Madam Zarinah, who is Singaporean, said she had applied for a built-to-order flat in Punggol last year. But when she was called up for selection, she and her Singaporean permanent resident husband realised they couldn't get a loan.

Built-to-order flat

Her other daughter, who is set to get married next month, will have a built-to-order flat.

"I'm not sure how long I'll be staying here. I hope to get my own flat. I might go (with my daughter), but I still have other children," she said.

Another renter, Mr Brandon Wong, 37, moved into his two-room unit in North Bridge Road three years ago, when the landlord of their four-room Jellicoe Road flat wanted to raise rent from $1,500 to $2,200.

Mr Wong, a Singaporean, who married his 38-year-old Filipino wife 11 years ago, said it is their fifth flat in as many years.

He used to own a four-room Admiralty flat with his former wife, a Singaporean, paying about $300 monthly. After their divorce, he stayed with his mother for some time before getting to know his current wife.

The other places they have stayed in were mostly four-room flats of about 80 sq m. Their present unit, for which they pay more than $200 monthly, is about 30 sq m.

"When we moved in, we didn't feel the size. It had been fairly well-maintained, the walls had been repainted. But when we started shifting our things in, it looked smaller and smaller," said the taxi driver, adding they have tried stacking items like cabinets to save space.

"The things we had previously we had to squeeze in, then find where to sleep. Slowly, we did up the place. What's important is that our flat is clean."

His three sons - 14, nine and seven years old - were young when they moved and "it's easy for them to adapt", he said.

"We told them that as long as there's a roof over your head, no matter how big or small, if we can stay, we'll stay."

He said his area is prone to littering, perhaps because residents do not feel ownership of their flats. Items including tissue paper, food packets and glass bottles have ended up at their second-storey balcony area, which covers the walkway on the first storey, he said.

When TNP visited, an unknown resident flung an empty milk carton on to this balcony area.

Mr Wong said he, too, hopes to have his own unit because of the uncertainty every two years, when it's time to renew the rental contract.

"We have to apply and wait for (the HDB's) letter. If they don't approve, what am I going to do?

"We've got used to the small area, and the children's school is nearby. But we're trying to save up also. We're not really eyeing any kind of flat, as long as we can say it's our own."

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