Government asks Singaporeans to reject NIMBY mindset as it overhauls foreign worker housing

SINGAPORE – Foreign worker housing is set for a major overhaul lasting for years as the government urges Singaporeans to keep an open mindset about the issue.

At a virtual media conference by the multi-ministry taskforce on COVID-19 on Monday (1 June), the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) and Ministry of National Development (MND) announced that the government will be putting in place “a major programme to build additional dormitories with higher standards over the coming months and years”.

In addition to expanding capacity to house migrant workers, the authorities are developing a set of specifications for these new dormitories. “The specifications will look into the design, facilities, management and regulation of these dormitories, and will factor in social interaction and disease response needs.”

They will take onboard lessons learnt from the current COVID-19 pandemic, and also seek feedback from relevant stakeholders, the MOM and MND said.

National Development Minister and taskforce co-chair Lawrence Wong also called on Singaporeans to do their part. “In land scarce Singapore, it is inevitable that some of these new dormitory sites would be quite near residential areas. So all of us must do our part by rejecting the not in my backyard mindset.”

He added, “We really need to appreciate the contributions of all that our migrant workers have been doing and will continue to do and build in Singapore and welcome them as part of our community. And this is an important part of how we can also learn from this whole experience and become a more inclusive society.”

Purpose-built dormitories

Currently, many foreign workers are now being housed in temporary facilities, which need to be returned to their original uses or redeveloped. At the same time, they cannot head back to their old dormitories. Hence, additional space needs to be created.

The government said that by the end of the year, it will be able to create additional space to house around 60,000 workers.

This will be achieved through the following:

  • New Quick Build Dormitories (QBDs) that will last for around two to three years. These are temporary structures that can be constructed quite quickly in a modular form with a low density, with each QBD housing about 500-1000 workers per ha, depending on the site conditions. The QBDs will have around 25,000 capacity in total.

    Sites where QBDs will be built include those Kranji Way, 1 Tuas Ave 2, Tuas South Ave 10, Jalan Tukang, Admiralty Street, Choa Chu Kang Grove, Choa Chu Kang Way and Tampines Industrial Ave 2.

  • Temporary fitting out of currently unused state properties, including former schools and vacant factories. These will have around 25,000 capacity in total.

  • Additional Construction Temporary Quarters (CTQs) built by contractors to house their workers at the worksite and cut down on transportation needs.

(List: Ministry of National Development, Ministry of Manpower)
(List: Ministry of National Development, Ministry of Manpower)

A set of new standard will be piloted at the new QBDs including providing for bigger living space. “Depending on subsequent assessment of effectiveness, scalability and sustainability, adjustments may be necessary for permanent new dormitories.”

Pilot set of standards at the new QBDs (Table: Ministry of National Development)
Pilot set of standards at the new QBDs (Table: Ministry of National Development)

Ultimately, “we are planning for new purpose-built dormitories (PBDs) to house up to 100,000 workers to replace the short- to medium-term housing”, the ministries said. “This new building programme will take several years to complete, but we aim to have about 11 such new PBDs ready over the next one to two years.”

Besides improving dormitory living standards based on domestic and international benchmarks, the government said that it is also studying the possibility of developing the new PBDs on a different model compared with the present system – currently, land is released for commercial operators to bid, build or operate.

The new and improved housing arrangements will come at a cost, the agencies said. “But they will keep the workers safe and allow Singaporeans to continue benefitting from their contributions.”

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