By Elias Tan
Stepping into Yung Kuang Residence is like stepping into a ghetto.
The group of four diamond-shaped blocks of HDB flats along Yung Kuang Road in Taman Jurong offers a glimpse into the lives of the city state’s poor. The minute you set foot onto the compound, you are greeted by the stench of waste. Bird droppings can be seen almost everywhere. Clothes are strewn all over the compound. Garbage chutes are left uncleared. People sit around the compound’s quadrangle square, staring straight into the open sky. During rainy days, rainwater pours in from all directions.
Once a pinnacle of urban architecture in Western Singapore, the diamond-shaped block of flats pales in comparison to its cleaner neighbours. It is now occupied by foreigners and low-income Singaporean families under the HDB’s Interim Rental Housing scheme.
The first two blocks, 63 and 64, are used to house low-income Singaporean families who are either waiting for their Built-to-Order flats to be ready, or have no place to stay. And rental does not come cheap; families pay S$300 each a month.
At least three Singaporean families are squeezed into a two-bedroom apartment that measures 678 square metres, while some units house more than five families.
The remaining blocks, blocks 65 and 66, are rented out to foreign workers between S$1,600 and S$1,800 per unit per month.
Surprisingly, some white-collar foreigners holding ‘S’ and ‘EP’ passes who are working in the vicinity choose to call the Yung Kuang flats home.
That is the plight of Singapore’s poor – they live in cramped state-owned rental apartments that are also inhabited by foreign workers, and it seems that they have long been forgotten, in part because affordable housing means having a roof over their heads.
And with more than 80 per cent of the population living in HDB flats, it seems like everyone is pretty well to do. But if you were to look beyond the brick and cement walls, you will find poor people.
A Malay Singaporean resident told The Independent Singapore that her family have been living in Yung Kuang for the past five months and do not mind the squalid living conditions. “What can we do? We have no choice,” said the 50-year-old housewife and mother of five whose husband works as a welder in a nearby factory.
For Singapore’s poor, having a roof over their heads is a priority. Without a place to stay, they cannot move on in life.
But having a house to live in does not mean they are free from trouble. The same resident also worries about safety issues, saying that she worries a lot for her daughter who frequently returns home late from school. “There’s a lot of people workers loitering around the compound. Some sit around the stairwell chit-chatting on their phones. I’m frightened that she might get molested or robbed.”
According to a representative from LHN Group, the leasing agent appointed by HDB to manage and look after the four blocks of flats, there are about over 210 low-income Singaporean families living among some 150 foreigners at Yung Kuang.
“We rent these units only to ‘S’ pass holders, Singaporean PRs and Singaporeans.”
When asked how often cleaning is conducted in the compound, the group representative initially declined to comment before saying that the management is not responsible for cleaning.
“It’s the job of the Town Council. We don’t provide cleaning services. We go door-to-door to repair things and mend faulty air-conditioners only when a resident calls us for help.”
What left The Independent Singapore team aghast was the A4-sized flyer their representative handed to us, which portrayed Yung Kuang as a cosy and liveable area. What we saw was something very different.