Welcome to the first part in our series on alternative housing solutions for Singaporeans. The situation is fast reaching dire proportions, my fellow countrymen.

We are pressurised on many fronts. Imported manpower swells our population needs at near-unmanageable rates. Global circumstances batter our local economy relentlessly. Rising costs, stagnant income, and competition from foreigners all combine to paint a rather bleak picture for the local man-in-the-street. For the average Singaporean Joe, or Tan, such worries can manifest right there on the street.

But at the forefront of it all is the worry that hits home… literally. The cost of housing is a hefty burden that for many, represents a lifetime of loan repayment and indebtedness. There is no greater fear to keep you shackled to a job than the fear of losing your home and family.

This great burden comes as a direct result of the desire to own your dream home. That is the Singapore Dream, after all, carefully crafted way back in the 1960s and 70s. But in these times, is it practical, or even desirable?

Is it even really considered “owning” when one has to take a 30-year loan, is forced to hold a job at all times, with all CPF going to pay the loan, and no way of ensuring some savings? While some may claim that having CPF go into property is a form of savings, it is actually quite a poor form of savings. Due to the lengthy tenors and amount of leverage, a large portion of these “savings” is exposed to global economics.

Yet, rental is seldom considered when discussing housing. Even more foreign a concept is “rooming”, or splitting up rooms in a residential unit amongst individual renters, who may or may not be friends at first. The situation comedy “Friends” wasn’t just a fictional television situation, y’know. And I’m sure those of you who have studied abroad are familiar with the rooming situation in “Big Bang Theory”. These options are very much a reality in many countries, both developed and developing. There are several reasons for this.

Rooming allows a group of renters to defray costs, such that they can stay in greater comfort, security and style than they would have been able to, individually. By dividing the cost amongst several co-renters, the group as a whole can secure better facilities, locales and furnishings. This applies to raw square footage as well. As can be seen at any property launch, the price per square foot, or PSF, lessens as the total size of the property increases. Simply put, sharing one large unit with three other tenants is cheaper than renting four individual units that are a quarter of the size.

There are a few caveats, of course. This solution becomes sub-optimal at the extremely low end of the market, where other solutions such as HDB rental and special subsidies should come into play. We’ll explore this other facet of rental in a later post. Another challenge is that much more groundwork must be done when attempting to share housing with others. The property in question must meet the needs of multiple people or family entities, not just the one. And perhaps the biggest issue is that there is a limit on how much one can modify or customise a rented home.

In addition, there are some basic requirements and ground rules before such an arrangement can be considered. Having the appropriate social skills is right at the top of the list. Having a plan is also a must. How will the bathroom facilities be shared? Will there be a cleaning schedule? What are the house rules? Pets or no pets? Visitor restrictions?

A significant change of mindset must take place for such radical solutions to become mainstream. But in the end, most of these challenges are social, which we as Singaporeans must learn to address if we are to mature as a society. Why not keep housing affordable while doing just that?

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