Single parents need more inclusive policies on public housing

February 15, 2017

mumchildThis post was originally published as a press release on 10 February 2017.

10 February 2017 – Public housing policies create serious difficulties for single parents and should be amended to be more inclusive, according to a report released by AWARE today.

The study (with accompanying Annexes) involved in-depth interviews with 55 single mothers and found 95% of interviewees who sought public housing faced problems, from unrealistic income ceilings and long debarment periods to a lack of transparency and clarity in policies. Their families experienced stress, uncertainty and financial pressure, with many reporting overcrowding and tension in relatives’ homes, and frustration with poorly explained and uncertain processes – such as the need for multiple applications or appeals to MPs.

The respondents were mothers who were unmarried, divorced, widowed or with spouses in prison. Many faced financial disadvantage, particularly divorced women who contributed years of unpaid caregiving during their marriages, putting into question the common misconception that single parents are well-resourced due to post-divorce sales of matrimonial flats.

“Everyone needs decent and stable housing, regardless of marital status or family structure – and single-parent families are growing in number,” said Jolene Tan, Head of Advocacy and Research at AWARE. “Access to housing has a strong impact on family life and intergenerational social mobility.”

Key recommendations in the report include:

  1. Increase the $1,500 income cap for rental housing – this is a barrier and disincentive keeping single parents from increasing their earnings to better support their families. (For reference, average monthly income for the 1st to 10th percentile of resident-employed households was $1,927 in 2015; and income ceiling caps for ComCare Short-to-Medium Term Assistance and the Community Health Assistance Scheme are $1,900 monthly household income and $1,800 per capita respectively.)
  2. Lift debarment periods for rental housing and HDB purchases, for single parents who have care and control of children, including if care and control is split. The debarment rules are intended to prevent property speculation and should not apply to those who need homes due to changed life circumstances.
  3. Treat an unmarried mother and her children as a “family nucleus” for the purpose of HDB schemes.
  4. Improve service delivery, including creating a unit to coordinate services to families transitioning to single-parent households.
  5. Empowering HDB to enforce court orders for sales of matrimonial flats.

One respondent was Uma*, a divorced mother of four, who struggled with the HDB rental and purchase application processes. She said, “As long as you don’t meet the criteria or you fall short of one category, you are rejected. They do not offer a second chance or (tell you) how you can go about doing it… To them, no means no, so then you have to go appeal, and you have to repeat the whole process again.”

“This is quite typical of the respondents’ experiences. Many had to appeal to their MPs or HDB’s discretion – though 38% could not access housing even with help from MPs,” said Jolene Tan. “Rather than clogging up the system with multiple appeals, policy-makers should take into account single parents’ specific needs to design more inclusive rules.”

AWARE will hold a press conference on 15 February (Wednesday) for the public release of the research findings. The conference will include a panel discussion with experts working on public housing and social service providers working with single mothers – Jolene Tan (Head of Advocacy and Research, AWARE), Dr Neo Yu Wei (Research Fellow, Social Service Research Centre), Carrie Tan (Executive Director, Daughters of Tomorrow).

At the press conference, AWARE will also screen a video interview with a single mother, Rene, on her experience with finding a home. Rene is a divorced mother of two who was could not apply for public rental housing because of the debarment rule. Unable to afford the expensive rental fees in the open market, her only option left was to move in and live with her parents in their one-room rental unit.

Accompanying this public release will be a comic by local artist Clogtwo, following the story of a single mother who faced multiple difficulties when she attempted to rent a flat from HDB. It is the first in a series of four comics inspired by the interviews with single mothers – the others are crafted by comic artists Weng Pixin, Neo Ann Gee and Nadirah Abdul Razak (a.k.a. ‘Inkten’). The comics will be released publicly in digital format on AWARE’s and the artists’ online platforms.

More details of the study can be found in the full text of our report and accompanying Annexes (both of which are embargoed until the press conference).

* All names used in the report are pseudonyms