After almost three years of living in shared spaces and moving from one temporary address to another, a mother and her six children finally have a place of their own to call home.
Anne (not her real name) is a divorcee who had struggled to obtain an affordable rental flat and later, a resale flat to house her family in a conducive environment.
She was also driven to divide her children and house them in different relatives’ homes while waiting for her resale flat.
After the divorce was finalised in 2014 and her matrimonial flat was sold, Anne tried to apply for rental housing under the Housing Development Board (HDB), but her application was rejected because her salary exceeded the $1,500 income cap for rental housing. As a result, she had to rent a place from the more expensive open market.
In October 2015, her ex-husband, who was renting landed property, offered to take care of the children. For the next few months, the children lived with their father while Anne lived in a one-bedroom apartment nearby.
This arrangement, however, was short-lived. In May 2016, Anne’s ex-husband could not afford the rent on his house.
Anne’s parents who lived in the west offered to take in the twins, while the rest of her children followed her to her former mother-in-law’s flat in the east.
Since her four older children were going to a school located in the east, it would be most practical for the children to live in their paternal grandmother’s three-room flat, said Anne.
In the meantime, she started house-hunting for a resale flat.
Anne admitted that this living arrangement for her family was “really hard” as her children had to be separated and her four older children were living in a cramped and constrained environment.
Anne, along with her older children, visited the twins every weekend at her parents’ place.
“When we leave, the twins would start to cry. It was hard for me too because I couldn’t see what was happening with the twins from Mondays to Fridays, unless I visit them during my lunch break,” said Anne. “I felt I was missing out on their development.”
Her former mother-in-law’s flat was overcrowded with eight inhabitants, including her ex-husband and his cousin. In addition, the many boxes and furniture in the house made the living environment cramped.
“Everyone would step on everyone’s toes and it was awkward for me because I was living in my ex-husband’s mum’s place. Their grandmother would yell at them [the four children] not to mess up the place,” said Anne.
Anne and her children were housed in this arrangement until May 2017, when renovations to her resale flat were completed.
“If HDB had given me a rental place while waiting for the resale flat application to be processed, living conditions wouldn’t be as difficult.”
On top of unfavourable living environments, Anne found the resale flat application process “disappointing and frustrating” due to the lengthy procedures.
Since it was Anne’s second time applying for a loan from HDB, she was asked to pay in cash, over $30,000 from the sale of her matrimonial flat.
As she did not receive any profit from the sale of her matrimonial flat, Anne appealed to HDB to waive the payment with her MP’s assistance.
Since Anne is a single parent with six dependents, HDB wanted to know whether she could afford the house and provide for her children. She was asked to provide documentation of her financial records, such as her bank statements and employment contract.
Anne was also asked about her educational qualifications. She felt those questions were unwarranted and had nothing to do with buying a house.
Those additional questions caused the application procedure to drag on, said Anne. She chose her flat in August and HDB approved her application in early November.
Furthermore, Anne was upset with the flat application system when she found out that a male friend, also a single parent, managed to purchase his resale flat in less than a month.
“My friend also appealed to have the resale levy waived. But the HDB officer who handled his case didn’t drag it on as long as it did with my case. The officer didn’t ask him personal questions.”
Anne added that she was furious that she had to wait a few months to purchase her flat.
It has been three weeks since Anne and her children moved into their flat.
“When my kids came into the house, their first question was, ‘Mummy do we have to move again?’ That was heartbreaking to hear and I didn’t expect that to be their first question,” said Anne.
The children have not experienced stability in a home for a long time, added Anne.
“Buying a physical house is the easy part. Right now I have to build a home for the children, ensure that the stability is ingrained in them and that they feel loved and comfortable at home.”
The Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE) acknowledges that single parent families face difficulties such as having to live in overcrowded conditions, facing frustration with uncertain application processes and having limited eligibility for HDB schemes.
The women’s group is trying to convince the authorities that housing policies should be more inclusive of single parents.
In May, AWARE launched the #ASingleLove petition to call for changes in housing policies for single mothers. The petition, which ends on 27 June, can be signed online in English, Malay, Chinese, and Tamil.
The final list of signatories will be sent to the Prime Minister, Minister for National Development and Minister for Social and Family Development.
Almost 6000 people have signed the petition, said Ms Jolene Tan, AWARE’s Head of Advocacy and Research.
“We hope that the government will see this as a positive sign that society is empathetic towards the experiences of single parents and their children, and take the appropriate steps towards meeting their housing needs,” added Ms Tan.
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