Esther Teo and Daryl Chin | The Straits Times | Friday, Aug 16, 2013

HDB houses 80% of all Singaporeans. It is the largest housing developer in Singapore. And a compassionate one too.

Whenever an unexpected family tragedy comes to our attention, HDB officers, together with the local grassroots leaders, will immediately visit the bereaved family to find out how we can be of help.

Our guiding principle is always “Compassion” and we will consider all practical options. Our hearts especially go out to victims of circumstances. Often, they involve young children.

For example, two years ago, a Singaporean man passed away suddenly while at work, leaving behind his non-Singaporean wife and 4 young Singapore children. The family had actually been looking forward to moving into their new Build-to-Order (BTO) flat in Choa Chu Kang, but their hopes were dashed with the freak accident. As the widow is a foreigner, the family was at risk of (a) having to move out of their rental flat, and (b) losing their BTO flat which the deceased had worked hard to buy.

HDB officers immediately reached out to them, exercised good judgement and worked out a comprehensive housing arrangement. The family got to keep their BTO flat application so that the young children would continue to have a roof over their heads and also live their late father’s dream of providing a home for his family. HDB went one step further and lowered their monthly rental fee so that the mother and children could find their feet and continue with their lives.

There was also a recent case where the flat owner and his wife had to stop working due to serious medical conditions which led to their defaulting on mortgage payments. HDB waived the minimum occupation period (MOP) and allowed the couple to sell off their flat and move in with their children. This had eased their financial burden and enabled them to focus on their medical treatment.

Last month, I came across another unfortunate case at my MPS. A couple had passed away suddenly, leaving their only child behind. The girl, in her teens, was still schooling and therefore financially incapable of keeping up with mortgage payments. HDB made a special exception, and deferred the mortgage payments until she starts working. She can thus focus on school and not worry about the mortgage payments.

This case also highlighted the need and the value of a mortgage-reducing insurance (MRI). Had the parents of this orphan subscribed to one, the MRI would have helped to pay off the outstanding loan and the girl would have been able to continue staying in the flat. Unfortunately, her parents did not take up such an insurance policy.

Currently, HDB flat owners using their CPF to service their housing loans are required to take up the Home Protection Scheme (HPS), or an equivalent MRI scheme. The HPS is inexpensive and starts from as little as $13 a month, for a 30-year loan of $250,000. There is no cash outlay as payment can be made using CPF. But some HDB flat owners do not subscribe to such insurance.

HDB will be as compassionate as it can to help victims of circumstances address their housing needs when tragedies strike. However, parents should also help their children and plan ahead. Buying an appropriate insurance is one good avenue.