Last week, my family went on the Chung-Lim Community Overseas Association’s trip to Shantou to visit our relatives.
It was the first time I paid a visit to my uncle’s family. He moved from his old ancestral house into the current three-room apartment more than ten years ago. My uncle lives on the third floor of this five-storey building. He and his wife are in their 80s, but continue to scale the flights of stairs each day, very much hale and hearty.
We also visited Xiamen during the trip. Xiamen is a modern city of soaring skyscrapers. Nevertheless, the tour guide highlighted that the height of most residential buildings do not venture beyond eight storeys. She explained that the Xiamen government laid down regulations to install lifts only for residential buildings taller than eight storeys. Therefore, a large majority of the residential buildings is not equipped with elevators. Residents, young or old, continue to take the stairs with their heavy grocery bags, infants in their hands or bulky furniture when they move house.
In the early days, most of our buildings were not installed with lifts. In fact, the older walk-up private apartments do not have lifts, even up till today. My wife’s grandmother moved out from her old residence on the fourth floor to live with her daughter at her HDB flat partly because the HDB block is serviced by lifts.
Following the inception of the “Home Ownership Scheme” by the Singapore government in 1960, Singaporeans have since benefitted from affordable housing.
A lot of Singaporeans lived in kampongs in the earlier days. Most rejoiced at the huge improvement in living conditions to relocate from the leaky and decrepit makeshift houses to HDB flats, with easy access to electricity, water and proper sanitation. Nonetheless, the lifts then only stopped on certain floors, taking into consideration the costs of installation and maintenance, as well as the rate of construction.
Gone were the days where residents had to surmount slopes and trudge muddy tracks. Moving into HDB flats was a blessing to most even if it meant having to use the stairs.
All the HDB flats built after 1990 have an elevator landing on every floor. Given the rapid transition into an ageing population, several of my seniors in the parliament then actively appealed for new lifts to be installed in 4000 blocks of flats, so that residents on every floor can enjoy the added convenience. Therefore, the government started the Lift Upgrading Programme (LUP) in 2001. In a few years, this programme would be fully completed after spending an estimated S$5.5 billion.
I have handled about 10 LUPs at Queenstown and Tampines over the past 6 years. Each time, grassroots leaders and HDB personnel would call on each resident to explain the LUP in detail.
- Given that a maximum of 10% of the installation fee or $3000 is payable by residents living on floors previously not serviced by lifts,
- the LUP for each block would only proceed when at least 75% of the beneficiaries vote to lend their support.
- The remaining majority of the installation fee is borne by HDB and the town council.
Most residents are able to afford the upgrading fees.
- In fact, payment was made only after the successful completion of the installation.
- Residents could choose to pay by monthly instalments in the range of tens of dollars.
- They also have the choice to have the amount deducted from the future sale of their flat.
Based on my experience, the reasons for residents objecting to the LUP are as follow:
- The LUP causes inconvenience, dust and noise.
- The newly installed lift shaft might affect the view and fengshui of the residents.
- Residents do not mind taking the stairs and are used to doing so as an exercise.
- Unhappy that some residents do not have to bear the costs of the LUP (Some floors within the block are already serviced by lifts; therefore these residents do not have to vote or pay for the LUP.)
- Some residents feel that this is a flaw in the design of the HDB flats, therefore the government should bear full responsibility in the upgrading programme.
Each time, we would earnestly try to persuade these residents to change their mindset.
- Some may find it a breeze to take the stairs now, but what happens when age starts to catch on?
- Even if one does not need the lift, there are bound to be neighbours who are in urgent need of the added convenience.
- I have actually come across physically immobile residents who are confined to stay in the entire day just because there was no lift serving their floors.
Undeniably, upgrading programmes bring about the short-term disruption to daily routines. However, the indefinite convenience thereafter would be well worth the two years of patience and forbearance.
Furthermore, the resale price of a flat serviced by a lift would definitely be higher.
We all wish for society and living standards to continually improve.
- Covered walkways, ramps appended to pedestrian overhead bridges, and in future,
- perhaps also serviced by lifts and escalators, are all examples of improvement measures that serve to improve our lives.
- The new multi-storey car parks all come with lifts. I am certain that the old ones will have their own “LUP” in the near future.
I do wonder whether the people at Xiamen would castigate the local government years later for the lift regulations or be grateful for a healthy lifestyle by making them climb the stairs every day.
And I do hope my uncle and aunt remain strong and healthy.
Baey Yam Keng, June 20, 2012