“After my divorce, I again had to endure paying years of exorbitant rental for renting from the open market, because I do not make the ridiculous income bracket of $1500,” said Rachel, a single mother.
She was sharing her experiences as a single mother after attending a dialogue session organised by the Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE).
AWARE is currently running a campaign in support of housing for single parents who are, under existing regulations, barred from applying for public flats.
The $1,500 mentioned by Rachel refers to total household gross income ceiling which applicants must not exceed in order to qualify for a public rental flat.
“That is the most ludicrous: even when I started working 20 years ago with only an O’levels certificate, my starting salary was already $1600!,” Rachel said.
These “myopic laws”, she says, also forced her to endure years of an abusive marriage because divorcees or singles under 35 are barred from buying their own place.
“Without that law in place, I would have had the legal freedom to leave my marriage then and to secure a safe and affordable housing option for myself and my children,” she said.
She said she was thankful that she had the financial means and independence to have her own place, “but I was really screwed over by the laws for years before things turned around.”
“And having heard from the ground, this is embarrassingly clear that I was not the only one to suffer from such senseless laws in place,” she added.
She said the government’s job is to ensure that each and every citizen has a safe and stable roof over their head, and “not to play the unsolicited role of moral watchdog or worse, that of a totalitarian.”
“Marriages are organic and as such, divorces will happen regardless of social engineering,” Rachel said. “Having such archaic and senseless laws in place will only ensure that both parents and children suffer, and create vicious cycles of unnecessary hardship.”
In a letter to the press on 25 May, the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) said :
“Benefits such as the Baby Bonus Cash Gift and housing benefits are tied to the parent’s marital status. The benefits will not be extended even if an unwed mother adopts her own child, as they are meant to encourage parenthood within marriage.”
The ministry also said that “all Singaporean children get to enjoy the entire suite of Government benefits that support their growth and development, regardless of the marital status of their parents.”
But the fact that the law bars single parents from public housing means that the children are affected as well. This, some argue, affect their “growth and development” as a physical home is necessary for these.
Rene Marlina, for example, relates her predicament brought about by existing laws.
After her divorce, she had to sell off her HDB flat, as per HDB’s regulations. The proceeds were then split with her ex-husband.
“From then on, I moved out and stayed with my mom, my parents, in a 1-room rental flat,” she said. “There were 6 of us – my parents, my nephew, myself and my two kids.”
She has been living in the rental flat for more than 3 years and is trying to apply for a flat of her own, but her applications to the HDB have all been rejected thus far.
She had had to wait 30 months after selling off her flat in order to qualify to apply for a new HDB flat.
“I’m still waiting for my 30 months to be up,” Rena said.
But even before this, she has tried several times, going personally to the HDB to plead with them, to no avail.
“I tried my luck, you know, applying, go to HDB and email them and tell them my situation, my children’s situation.”
Rena, who works as a Basic Care Assistant, said her appeals were rejected.
“It was very sad,” she said. “If I’m alone, I’m ok. I don’t mind, but I’m thinking of my children.”
As for renting from the open market, she faces what most people go through – high rental costs.
“When divorce happens, it is always the mother and the children at the losing end,” she said. “For the ex-spouse, they can just leave the house, they are alone, they don’t bring the children along. It’s always the mother who takes in the children.”
That is when the mother has to face questions such as, “Where do I stay”, and “What’s going to happen to my kids”, “Where are we going to live”.
Rena said if the HDB could relax its rules such as the 30 months debarment, things would not be so tough for single parents or single mothers like herself.
Sign Aware’s petition here.
Here is a short video of the interview with Rena: