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SERS in Singapore: Compensation Doesn’t Fix All The Problems

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Ryan Ong

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Hey, anyone know Rochor Centre? The multi-coloured flats with the hawker centre? HAH! You lie! It doesn’t exist! Well, not for long anyways. The government recently took a sledgehammer to the place, through the SERS. Most residents are about as happy as a bulldog with its tail on fire, so HDB has gone heavy on the compensation. So why are people complaining of a raw deal? I explore the issues in this article:

 

What Is SERS?

The Selective En Bloc Redevelopment Scheme (SERS) is an urban redevelopment scheme. It deals with old buildings; disease and insect pits so run down, you get conjunctivitis just by looking at them. At least, that’s the ideal.

When HDB invokes the SERS, they evict current residents and tear down the building. Hopefully in that order. The residents then :

  1. Receive compensation, equal to the prevailing market value of their former homes, and
  2. Residents eligible to retain their flats get a replacement flat, at a subsidised price.

 

US marines using Singapore urban combat training facility
“What’s more, your replacement flats double as the army’s training facility. Imagine the added safety.”

 

Because Singaporeans can literally nag a charging elephant to death, they often succeed in getting extra freebies. As an example, the recent SERS in Rochor also yielded the following benefits:

  • Residents were allowed to pick replacement flats from brand new BTO flats (99 year lease).
  • Residents were given priority, even when picking from the BTO flats.
  • The Resale Levy can be deferred if they sell the replacement flat.

 

So What’s The Problem?

In terms of sheer dollars and cents, the compensation looks generous. But there are problems that go beyond the fiscal. Also, there are adverse effects on properties surrounding the re-development area, which need to be addressed.

These are the main issues, which compensation doesn’t help:

 

1. The Value of Surrounding Properties Will Fall

 

Construction site with lots of pipes
“There’s a great view out the window. Assuming you  wear protective goggles.”

 

Have you ever lived next to a construction site? It’s about as pleasant as your neighbour hosting a Metal Guitar contest at three in the morning. And you couldn’t inhale more dust if someone fire-bombed an archaeology department.

When the SERS kicks in and the demolition starts, surrounding property values will fall. The construction of new flats takes years, and surrounding residents won’t see good resale values for the duration. This may scuttle some upgrading plans.

 

2. Traffic Congestion

 

Countless road warning signs all stacked up
“And when they reach the last sign, we’ll have civil defence guys run out and perform a road safety skit.”

 

Just imagine the roads in surrounding areas. Yes sir, more congested than a fat man’s arteries at a Pizza Hut buffet. For nearby residents who are motorists, the SERS means a sudden surge in road diversions and traffic jams.

Of course, the residents being evicted aren’t affected by this. But their neighbours will be on Xanax and anger management courses for years. Anyone who thought traffic was “okay” when they settled in the area just got royally messed with.

 

3. Accessibility Issues

 

Kid pushing overloaded trolley
“Come on Mei. Just another nine kilometres and we’ll be home.”

 

Some residents bought their flats for location specific reasons. For example, some residents forfeited better deals to get a flat close to work, or close to their children’s school. Compensation from the SERS doesn’t make up for their forced change of location.

In the case of the SERS at Rochor, for example, residents were initially offered replacements at Kallang. If not for their incessant complaining, the option to select new BTO flats would not have materialized. Future residents affected by SERS might not be as lucky.

A forced re-location can add valuable commuting time to work, school, or medical facilities. In these cases, the fiscal compensation may be meaningless.

 

4. Issues With Repopulated Areas

 

Singapore crowd
“Good thing we’re here on a weekday. You should see the crowd otherwise.”

 

Picture a few hundred people moving into your neighbourhood, all at once.

Yeah, you know that already crowded carpark? Now you can grow your fingernails a good three inches, while waiting for a parking space that’s too far from your block. And just wait till you experience the heightened noise pollution!

Hey, when SERS clears out residents, it has to drop them somewhere. And if that somewhere is your neighbourhood, you can’t do anything short of hurl four letter words at a brick wall. Don’t count on getting compensation for your troubles; you don’t factor into the SERS.

 

5. Issues Beyond Compensation

 

Old shophouse with 7-11
“You’re right, some things are worth conserving. Tear everything down except the 7-11.”

 

Remember the Tiong Bahru incident in 2010? 12 years after moving the original residents, the flats there were converted to a condominium. The monthly rent for the condo (Global Residence)?  Around $4800 – $5000 a month.

Some of the original residents must be reading this, because I heard their blood vessels pop from all the way over here.

Unfairness isn’t the only issue. HDB is supposed to place Singaporeans first, and part of that policy is to prevent foreigners buying flats. But what’s to stop them from demolishing existing flats, and then turning them into condos that foreigners can buy? On a national level, this goes beyond issues of simple compensation.

And let’s not forget: We lose a part of our national history, whenever the authorities start playing Godzilla-on-a-rampage.

Image Credits:
Shiny Things, Official U.S. Navy Imagery, modery, williamcho, madaboutasia, Shiny things (thumbnail)

What do you think HDB should include as compensation? Comment and let us know!

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Ryan Ong

I was a freelance writer for over a decade, and covered topics from music to super-contagious foot diseases. I took this job because I believe financial news should be accessible and fun to read. Also, because the assignments don't involve shouting teenagers and debilitating plagues.