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Poor will not be neglected in HDB upgrading

Revised schemes allow for more flexibility and govt subsidies

THE Housing Board will not neglect the needs of the poor, or be rigid, as it upgrades flats under schemes which have recently been revamped.

The Minister of State for National Development, Ms Grace Fu, gave this assurance as the Housing and Development (Amendment) Bill, which paves the way for one of the new programmes, was passed in Parliament yesterday.

During the debate on the Bill, various MPs had put forward wish-lists.

Madam Cynthia Phua (Aljunied GRC) wanted the Government to absorb the co-payment that will be required for lower-income households to get their homes upgraded.

Under the new Home Improvement Programme (HIP), which focuses on essential improvements within a flat such as repairing spalling concrete, residents will have to pay between 5 and 12.5 per cent of the total bill.

They can opt out of some items.

The other new scheme recently introduced – the Neighbourhood Renewal Programme, where improvements are made across several precincts – will be fully paid for by the Government.

Mr Liang Eng Hwa (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC) asked for items such as aluminium window frames or accessibility features for the elderly and disabled to be added to the list of essential improvements under the HIP programme.

He also wanted the Government to consider extending its upgrading schemes to private estates.

Ms Fu rejected Mr Liang’s suggestion that government-subsidised upgrading be offered to private estates, pointing out that private homes could be owned by foreigners as well as permanent residents. Unlike owners of HDB flats, private home owners also have the option of selling their homes collectively.

On the question of lower-income households, Ms Fu said flat owners can cut their bills by opting out of various improvements.

Ms Fu assured members that the HDB has in place ‘sufficient financial help’ for struggling flat owners, who are given the option to pay their share of the upgrading bill through instalments over a long time. To date, it has not taken any flat owner to court over unpaid upgrading bills.

Meanwhile, the HDB will consider elderly-friendly features like grab bars as part of the optional improvement items under the HIP if they prove popular. Current options are limited to upgrading toilets, new entrance doors, grille gates and refuse hoppers.

However, flat owners are free to make separate requests to HDB contractors to install such items in their flats at the same time as their flats are upgraded.

Ms Fu stressed that the upgrading programmes are ‘not a substitute for outine maintenance, cyclical repair the home owner and town councils will have to undertake’.

Meanwhile, opposition MP Chiam See Tong (Potong Pasir) asked why the flats in his ageing ward have not been upgraded over the two decades in which upgrading has been available.

Ms Fu replied that while his ward is eligible for the upgrades, the Government prioritises districts based on their support of government policies.

 

Source: The Straits Times 22 Jan 08

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