Tanglin Halt residents: It's hard to leave

SINGAPORE - Their flats are likely to fetch good prices on the resale market, but many Tanglin Halt residents affected by a government redevelopment scheme say they are not interested.

Fifteen of the 20 residents The Straits Times spoke to cited neighbourliness and convenience as among their reasons for staying put.

Some 3,480 households in Tanglin Halt, one of Singapore's oldest housing estates, have been picked for the Housing Board's latest Selective En bloc Redevelopment Scheme (Sers).

The blocks along Tanglin Halt Road and Commonwealth Drive will be demolished and residents will have the option of moving into replacement flats in nearby Dawson estate, which will be ready in five to six years.

The promise of new units in a prime area like Queenstown makes these flats attractive to buyers, said agents. But some residents, like warehouse assistant Annie Wong, 58, find it hard to leave, having lived in Tanglin Halt for more than 20 years.

"It's a familiar environment, with the same neighbours," said Madam Wong, who lives with her brother in a three-room flat.

"We are all good friends and want to move over together," she added, referring to the HDB's joint selection scheme, which allows up to six households to choose their Sers replacement flats together.

Other residents cite practicality.

"Sell, (then) where to live? You cannot find such a good location," said waitress Tan Lai Eng, 63, who lives with her husband and two sons in a three-room flat.

The Straits Times is aware of at least two units in the 31 blocks slated for demolition that have been sold since the Sers announcement in June.

Those who plan to sell their flats say they hope to save money for retirement or to get a bigger unit elsewhere.

Coffeeshop assistant Tan Eng Quee, 70, intends to cash in on his three-room flat.

"I plan to sell it and buy a small studio apartment," said Mr Tan, who lives alone. "Then I can take the money and retire happily."

Some home owners are selling so they can upgrade.

"Resale prices have been dropping," said technician Mohamed Feroz Mohamed Hussain, 42, who wants to sell his three-room flat in Block 66, Commonwealth Drive, and buy a four-room resale flat in Kallang or Paya Lebar.

"The replacement flats are not cheap, plus they have less usable space," he added.

A new four-room flat in Dawson is expected to range from 80 to 85 sq m, less than the typical 90 sq m for the same flat type.

"It was a very difficult decision," added Mr Mohamed Feroz, who grew up in Tanglin Halt and lives there with his father, wife and son.

"I will miss the kampung spirit that I share with my neighbours," he said.

But there is another group of residents still undecided.

"We can't decide whether to sell," said Ms Lydia Teo, 35.

The art teacher, who lives in a three-room flat with her husband, maid and two children, wants to upgrade to a four- or five-room unit.

If they get a bigger Dawson unit, they would have to top up maybe about $200,000, she said. "But with that same amount we might get a bigger place in an older resale flat elsewhere," she added.

Also undecided is a 51-year-old insurance agent who gave his name only as Mr Lim.

While the bachelor feels the new Dawson flats are "attractive", he worries about being unable to upgrade from a two- to a three-room flat.

"By the time the new flats are ready, I would be past 55, and the money I need to upgrade will be stuck in my Central Provident Fund (CPF) accounts," said Mr Lim, who lives alone.

CPF members who turn 55 have to set aside a minimum sum from their CPF savings for retirement and medical needs, thus reducing the amount of CPF savings that can be used for property.

They also have to repay any housing loan from the HDB within 25 years or before they turn 65, whichever is shorter.

Mr Lim said he might apply for a new Build-To-Order flat instead.

"I will be able to reduce my loan, and have more time to pay it off."

This article was first published on September 29, 2014.
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