'I don't know where I can move to': Lorong 3 Geylang homeowners express concerns as leases set to expire

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SINGAPORE: They have lived in their two-storey houses in Lorong 3 Geylang for decades. Now, residents there are struggling to come to terms with the fact that they have to move out in about three years – with no compensation – when their 60-year leases expire.

The Singapore Land Authority (SLA) announced on Tuesday (Jun 20) that the land will return to the state when the lease runs out at the end of 2020 – a first for residential properties in Singapore. The two-hectare area has been earmarked for public housing development.

Some of the 33 homeowners who still live in the houses are clueless about where they will go. Some, like 80-year-old retiree Yeo Chai, only realised that there is not much time left when SLA officers came knocking on his door on Tuesday to hand him a letter, and offer assistance in the process of moving out.

“I’ve never thought of moving out because I have lived so comfortably here,” said Mr Yeo of the place that houses four generations. He lives there with his daughter, granddaughter and two great-grandsons, and said he will miss having family gatherings in the spacious terrace house. 

Mr Yeo, who moved into the house after his previous one was razed in a fire 56 years ago, said he enjoyed the kampong spirit among residents when they were all still living there. Only 33 homeowners remain in the 191 terrace houses in Lorong 3 Geylang, with the majority of the houses rented out to foreign workers. 

While he, like other residents, hopes to get some form of compensation from the Government, that will not happen as this is a case of the land’s lease running out. In other cases where the Government acquires land in the middle of a lease, affected residents are compensated with the value of the remaining lease.

Madam Tan Whay Seok, a 69-year-old rojak seller, hopes to find housing near her current home, as she works at the Geylang Bahru market. She is also used to the area, having lived there for over 40 years.

“I’m anxious, I don’t know where I can move to,” said Madam Tan, who lives with her husband and unmarried son. She said she applied for an HDB flat, but was unable to get it. She said money is also a concern, as her savings have depleted from having to pay for her husband’s leg surgery at a private hospital, after he had a knee infection.

Madam Tan Whay Seok outside her home in Lorong 3 Geylang. She is worried about how to buy a flat with the little savings she has. (Photo: Natasha Razak)

To help with the transition, SLA said a dedicated officer will be assigned to each house owner, who will guide them through the lease expiry process over the next three and a half years. Those who do not already have alternative housing have various options, including buying an HDB flat or private property, renting on the open market or living with family members, SLA said.

On Tuesday morning, 16 SLA officers made their rounds and managed to reach about 50 owners and occupants who were present.

RESIDENTS NEARBY GLAD HOUSES WILL GO

While the homeowners are sad to have to leave the place they have grown emotionally attached to, some who live elsewhere won’t be lamenting the loss.

One of them is Mrs Sobhana Krishnan, a 69-year-old housewife who lives nearby in Block 38 Upper Boon Keng Road. To get to blocks 38 and 39, residents have to walk through Lorong 3 Geylang.

“It’s very dirty, and there’s not much maintenance. Sometimes, there are dead rats on the road because the vehicles knock them down. I just avoid them,” she said, adding that the houses generally look like they are in a state of disrepair.

Owners and occupants living in terrace houses in Lorong 3 Geylang will have to move out in 2020, when the land occupied by these houses returns to the state. (Photo: Natasha Razak)

She said that she is looking forward to a buzz in the area, since there will be HDB flats in place of the terrace houses. SLA did not say when redevelopment will start.

Madam L Chan, who lives in Block 38 but used to live in one of the terrace houses, said that she believes it is time for the houses to go, citing the pest problem. She added that the current occupants of the houses may not be taking good care of the units, unlike the owners who have since moved out.

When the leases for the houses along Lorong 3 Geylang run out, owners have to make sure the properties are cleared of all belongings and furniture, utilities and services are terminated and all outstanding bills are paid.

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