News Reports

Is this home – truly?

I have been thinking for weeks about writing a “look forward’’ blog post – and now it’s too late. It’s Jan 3. So many people are crystal ball gazing or putting forth personal or national aspirations that I was flummoxed last night when a friend asked if I had a resolution for the new year. I realized that I don’t have one.

But a thought struck me when I was scanning today’s newspapers. I think the article in ST would have caught readers’ eyes: how a Duxton Pinnacle flat fetched $900,000 in the resale market. It’s a 95 sq m flat bought for $340,000. Woooah! So the iconic (or ugly, in my view) Pinnacle flats were finally allowed on the resale market a month ago after meeting the HDB’s ownership deadline rules. The article tried to dampen any feelings of envy by talking about how unique the flat is, and how neighbouring similar sized HDB flats were already going for three-quarters of a million bucks.

First thought: What a windfall for the couple who sold the unit! It doesn’t seem to have been affected by the fall in HDB resale prices,  by 6.1 per cent for the whole of last year! Then again, we wouldn’t know since the Pinnacle@Duxton is a new product on the market. Which leaves me to think: how many others in this HDB estate would be off-loading their flats for such a windfall? I see a green-eyed monster growing in me….

How many people actually age in place? According to HDB, six in 10 people are still living in their first flat. That’s good – because it is their home, truly.

Apparently, most of them are concentrated in the Tanjong Pagar (where Duxton is) and Chinatown areas. I don’t think anyone is surprised by the places named. That’s where quite a few of the elderly live, and they would want to age in place, as many elderly people want. In fact, a survey last year showed that about 81 per cent of those above 65 want to age in their existing flat, as they found it comfortable, had an emotional attachment to it, or want their children to inherit the flat. I think the HDB upgrading projects are magnificent moves to get people to stay in place. I can’t imagine my mother, for example, negotiating the stairs at her age without a lift that stops at every floor. Perhaps, the upgrading programmes contributed to the six in 10 ratio of people staying put. Or it could have been smaller.

But staying put for ages can be viewed as quite silly because the residents didn’t take advantage of buying and selling, upgrading to a bigger flat and reaping profits. That’s what most people think about – the future gain. That’s why you have people who bought BTO flats in Sengkang grumbling about the siting of a columbarium. They haven’t even moved in, and they’re thinking about resale prices…

So the HDB wants to come up with more ways for families to live near each other. If the elderly wants to age in place, and the younger ones are attracted by market incentives (read: subsidies/grants) to live near them, hopefully the younger ones will want to age in place and the cycle starts again with their children. Except I am now reading about people asking for home distances to be “widened’’ for incentives to live near each other. (I was thinking to myself, maybe the HDB should give incentives for parents and children to live in the same constituency/GRC…that’s a wide enough distance…)

Professor Tommy Koh wrote about his three wishes for the new year published in ST today, and worried that Singapore was becoming a “market society’’ which knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.  He hopes that Singapore will be less obsessed with money and less materialistic.

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Maybe we can start by not thinking of the place we live in as something we can make money from. But as a home.

According to a five-yearly HDB household survey released last week, fewer HDB residents are satisfied with their flat, a drop from 96.4 per cent in 2008 to 91 per cent last year. Residents’ main concerns were related to the condition of ageing flats, HDB stated. Additionally, resident satisfaction with their neighbourhood stood at 92 per cent, down from 95.1 per cent five years ago. Respondents cited inconsiderate neighbours as the main reason, HDB said. (So either we’ve become more inconsiderate over the years or we have new types of neighbours…I don’t think I want to go there…)

About 25 per cent of the complaints that HDB receives concern ceiling leakages in flats, according to MND minister Khaw Boon Wan.  Now, the responsibility for maintaining the flats and addressing such leakages fall on both the upper and lower floor flats. The problem arises when the upper floor residents refuse to allow HDB officers in to fix the leaks, which could take as long as three months or even a year to fix. I think the problem is also the cost which the upper floor residents will also have to bear – the HDB funds half, the other half is split between upper and lower floors. Since the upper floor residents aren’t affected, they would view it as an imposition…until THEIR own ceiling leaks.

Mr Khaw wants more power for the HDB to enter flats. It’s a reasonable request for power even though I don’t like it at all. I guess we have to get used to living in older structures and know where responsibility lies…and maybe more emphasis on this should be placed. I don’t just mean promoting neighbourliness, but a DIY culture.

I have always been amazed at how westerners fix up everything in the house on their own without resorting to cleaners, painters, plumbers, electricians and carpenters. I suppose it’s because it is cheaper to do so. Here, it might well be cheaper and more convenient or even a habit to just sell and move out to a newer place. We don’t have a DIY culture, but a disposable one.

My own place is getting old. I have to fix one air-con unit, lights in the living room and my book collection has outgrown the shelf space I have. I need to change my sofa and television set both of which have been with me for more than 10 years. I am getting annoyed at the surrounding construction work which will block my view of the neighbourhood when the buildings are up. I suppose I can also look for a newer place since I will get a good profit from my home despite falling resale prices. But I think not.

So my new year resolution will be: This is my home, truly – and I will make it beautiful.

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