PR distribution in HDB estates to be monitored
By Leong Wee Keat & Ong Dai Lin, TODAY 26 October 2009
SINGAPORE: The Housing and Development Board (HDB) will consider measures to prevent the congregation of permanent residents, if necessary.
MediaCorp had contacted the statutory board after Member of Parliament Lim Wee Kiak filed a parliamentary question on the total number of PRs who own HDB flats and the distribution of PRs in various public housing estates.
While his question is being held over from last week - it could not be reached within the 90 minutes given for question time - an HDB spokesman said: "It's important that PRs can integrate into the larger citizen community and to have a good mix of PRs in HDB estates. HDB will monitor the distribution of PRs in HDB estates."
While it will consider measures, the spokesman added: "The number of PR households owning HDB flats is a small proportion of all HDB households."
To Dr Lim, who may get the numbers next month when Parliament is in session, "10 to 15 per cent" would be "significant" enough - "as big a group as Indians and Malays" - to warrant introducing a quota system to ensure "even distribution" of PRs across estates, which will help the efforts to integrate and naturalise them. PRs will otherwise "remain separated", he said.
PR households are subject to the same HDB rules, including the Ethnic Integration Policy, and can buy any type of resale flat but are not eligible for any housing and mortgage subsidy, which only Singaporeans can receive.
MP Ho Geok Choo cautioned against introducing a quota, however. "The numbers (of foreigners) are not so intimidating or threatening yet," she said. "We have to share the need to house these foreign residents among us in Singapore."
Dr Lim hopes his colleagues will raise more questions when National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan gives his reply in Parliament. The issue should be addressed now, he said, rather than later.
"Eventually, a lot of (PRs) may become Singaporeans and they'll have a chance to exercise their vote and will become a political voice," he said.
Foreigners, PRs a more common sight in heartlands
A Singaporean walking around Boon Lay Shopping Centre could be forgiven for thinking he is in a foreign land. It has six minimarts - four Myanmar, one Thai and one Indian - while seven remittance shops and Internet cafes dot its aisles.
Shop owners estimate that foreigners form about 70 per cent of the patrons there.
At Clementi Avenue 5 and 2, two Myanmar minimarts are located under HDB blocks, while Chinese nationals enjoy discounted S$8 hair cuts at a shop in West Coast. Other patrons pay S$12.
Foreign banks and remittance services are sprouting up in estates such as Ang Mo Kio, Woodlands and Marine Parade, too.
The heartland landscape is changing in tandem with the influx of foreigners. Last year, 79,167 took up permanent residency, up from the 63,627 new PRs in 2007.
From their house visits, Members of Parliament attest to the increase in foreigners and PRs moving into their estates.
MP Ho Geok Choo told MediaCorp that in her Boon Lay ward, they sometimes made up half of a floor consisting of 15 to 18 units. Likewise, MP Lim Wee Kiak has come across PRs of different nationalities occupying six out of the eight units in one of his Sembawang blocks.
The presence of the new arrivals in the heartlands has not gone unnoticed by Singaporeans. When retiree Sim Ai Mei attended a recent folk singing class organised by her residents' committee in Woodlands, she found she was a minority - of the 20 participants, 12 were Chinese nationals.
Living close to one another, they decided to enrol for the class together, the 64 year old later learnt. "I was surprised," said Mdm Sim. "I didn't expect them to turn up as a group."
Mdm Sim's friend, who wanted to be known as Mdm Lim, was more direct. She said: "There are just too many (of them). I can't take their habits sometimes."
Singaporeans' complaints range from the smell of alien cuisines wafting through their flats, the noise levels and the hanging of clothes along the common corridors.
The new arrivals also chose to congregate with their fellow countrymen over locals, noted MPs and residents.
Choa Chu Kang resident Chow Zhihong observed that Chinese nationals at his estate have held gatherings at the common areas for their friends on occasions such as the Mid-Autumn Festival and National Day - but did not invite their Singaporean neighbours.
"They tend to stick to themselves," said Mr Chow, who has lived in the estate for seven years.
The increasing numbers means that immigrants do not need to integrate with locals.
Mr Dong Liquan chose to live close to other Chinese families in Woodlands so that they could accompany his family when he is at work. "Our neighbours don't understand our accent and some even laugh at us," he said.
Dr Terence Chong, a sociologist at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, believes that migrants have moved into the heartlands for economic reasons. "A foreigner who moves into the heartlands may not want to integrate by local life. It's just cheaper," he said.
Accommodation costs do make a difference - which means the likes of Bishan, for example, would not have the numbers being seen elsewhere.
Compared to 2006, property agent Daniel Koh, who oversees 60 associates, has seen a 20 per cent rise in PRs looking for flats in the Woodlands area. Other estates that new arrivals have been eyeing include Sembawang, Punggol and Sengkang.
Some new arrivals think the economic downturn has accentuated the differences between them and Singaporeans.
"They think we're out to take over their jobs and their housing," said PR Liu Zijie. "It creates an uneasy tension."
When one Chinese national hung his country's flag outside his flat, netizens blasted him for being culturally insensitive. In another incident, a group of foreign workers received an invoice with obscenities written in English.
It used to be easier to get along, feels Mr Pyaa Phyo Kyaw, 20, who came here three years ago from Myanmar after his parents obtained PR status.
Then, his Whampoa neighbours used to chat with his family in the evenings at the common corridor. The family shifted last year to Toa Payoh and getting to know their new neighbours has become harder. "Their doors are always closed," said Mr Pyaa, who is now a Singaporean.
Martin Koh/ Sherry Tang