SINGAPORE — When Ms Subashini, a relief security guard, heard that her block in West Plains@Bukit Batok has a mix of units which included rental flats for the lower income, she was not happy.
THE BIG PICTURE
For Mr Zailan, 36, who declined to give his full name, moving into a rental unit at the integrated block at Block 182A in Marsiling Greenview has meant creating a safer and better environment for his two children, who are four and seven.
Mr Zailan said that he moved out of his previous rental flat in Bedok after noticing how the environment there might introduce “bad habits” to his children.
“I was out on level 12 and I saw the other kids from the rental units (in Bedok) sitting on the parapet smoking, and I’m afraid my children would follow so I decided to move out,” he said.
While there may be some who welcome the idea of integrated blocks, there are others like Madam Sim, 71, who also declined to give her full name, who still has some reservations about mixing rental and BTO units together.
Madam Sim moved into her three room BTO flat in West Plains@Bukit Batok after her husband’s illness had kept him wheelchair-bound.
Her concerns about sharing a block with rental tenants stems from the increase in cigarette smoking and the general cleanliness of the common areas, as well as a growing number of people she has seen going in and out of the flats on her floor and in her block.
“I used to be able to walk around my corridor late at night, but I’ve not been able to now due to the increase in the number of people and unfamiliar faces,” said Mdm Sim.
However, some other BTO flat owners in integrated blocks say they have no issues living alongside those in rental units
“Sometimes homeowners may not be happy with the renters, saying that they are noisy, but I say that as neighbours, we have to understand each other,” said a BTO flat owner and housewife at Marsiling Greenview who wanted to be known only as Madam Nor, 61
Mr Zaqy Mohamad, a Member of Parliament (MP) for Marsiling-Yew Tee Group Representation Constituency (GRC) who oversees the Marsiling Greenview integrated block, told TODAY that he had expected concerns to be raised by residents living in the block though he had only received a handful of such feedback to date.
Mr Zaqy, who is also Senior Minister of State for Manpower and Defence, said the issues raised were related to the upkeep of the common areas, and noise problems due to inconsiderate behaviours or a moneylender chasing someone for money.
He added that there had been incidents which led to the police being called, but stressed that these were “sporadic” compared to the ones in older rental flats.
Despite such issues, Mr Zaqy highlighted the need for integrated blocks as tenants of rental units get to enjoy the same facilities that are not available to them if they were living in normal public rental blocks.
THE BOTTOM LINE
The issue of negative perception towards those living in HDB rental blocks and the concept of integrated blocks is not new and have been raised by MPs such as Mr Louis Ng from Nee Soon GRC and Mr Murali Pillai from Bukit Batok Single Member Constituency.
Speaking to TODAY, Mr Ng believes that the “social mixing” afforded by the integrated HDB blocks can be a crucial factor in uplifting someone out of poverty.
“It is really who they know and who they mix with rather than their family structure or the school or the availability of jobs,” he said, adding that there is a need for a mindset change about those who live in HDB rental flats.
Associate Professor Tan Ern Ser from the National University Singapore’s (NUS) Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy said that negative public perception around rental housing could have its source in class prejudice, stereotypes, and discrimination,
Such perceptions can also be reinforced by some actual encounters with rental housing residents and conditions of rental blocks, he said.
Integrated blocks are generally a good idea as the physical proximity of public rental and BTO units could facilitate social interaction, he added.
“The practical implication here is that the social gap between the rental units and the BTO units must not be too far apart, for example, having a one-room rental unit adjacent to an executive apartment.”
Assoc Prof Vincent Chua from NUS’ Department of Sociology and Anthropology believes that physical proximity with the integrated blocks may facilitate but not guarantee social proximity as there can still be a perception of different class relations between homeowners and rental unit tenants.
His colleague, Professor Chua Beng Huat, also believes that it is hard to change the perception around rental units when homeowners are concerned with the monetary value of their flats, which can be negatively affected by the presence of renters.
While it is a good idea to mix rental and BTO units for social integration, more efforts are needed to encourage interactions among the residents, said Assoc Prof Tan.
“Reducing physical distance does not necessarily translate into reducing social distance,” he said.
Residents also have a part to play, he added.
Ms Hannah Seah, 58, is doing just that in the hope of setting an example to other BTO residents in her block.
Even though she had only just moved in to Marsiling Greenview this year, Ms Seah found that some of the rental tenants in her block are “pretty decent and very kind”.
The educational therapist said there are times when she would smile at her rental unit neighbours, and wait for one another in the lift.
“Although I might still hear noises on some days and see some litter from time to time, I tend to keep an open mind about my neighbours because I like the environment here.”