From Rental to HDB: Part 1

My name is Zuraidah. This is my story of home.

My first home was a 3-room HDB flat with my parents and
siblings at Bedok Reservoir.

At 13 years old, I quit school to work at a confectionery to
support my family.

When I was 17 years old, I got engaged to my first husband
and married him when I turned 21.

We wanted to stay near his parents, so we bought our first
HDB flat, a resale unit, at a block next to my in-law’s flat. As first-timer
HDB buyers, we tapped on the first-timer grant which reduced our cost by

Photo: Our first home as a couple became my in-laws’ HDB at Choa Chu Kang. (Source: HDB)

With our new home, we started a family.

I gave birth to our daughter at the age of 22 years old.

Both of us worked to raise our family and pay the bills. I
worked hard over weekends doing shift work in the sales line.

But… we drifted apart, our marriage broke down. My daughter
was only 4 years old, and I was expecting a son.

We sold our home, the matrimonial flat, at the current
market price, which was unfortunately not in our favour. We made a loss, but it
couldn’t be helped.

I moved back home to my parents’ 3-room HDB with my two
young children. When I worked, my mum helped me look after them at home.

It was tough being a single mum.

I yearned to be independent, to have a home to call my own,
as I have been working since 13 years old.

In 2003, I applied for a rental flat. I was actually shocked
how fast the application went through!

Three months later, I moved to a rental flat in
Lengkok Bahru.

Graphic: HDB Rental Flat Schemes (Source: HDB)

The location was a bit far from Bedok, but this didn’t stop
my family of three from travelling back to Bedok to visit my parents often.

Finding love.

Throughout all these upheavals, I met my current husband. My
daughter looked up to him as a father figure, a role which was absent in her
earlier years.

We got married in 2005 and had two children of our own. In
2008, my parents sold off their 3-room flat and my mum stayed with us for a
year before moving to my brother’s house.

Our humble rental flat was then home to 3 adults and 4
children – it was a bit of a squeeze, but we made it work.

We all slept on mattresses that could be folded and kept by
the side. We took turns to use the only toilet based on how early we had to
leave the house to get to school or work.

Worrying about home.

After I had my fourth child, I quit my job to look after my

I didn’t know I would be unemployed for five years. My
husband fell ill and could not hold a full-time job.

We struggled to pay our bills – I worried we would be

Thankfully, when I approached the Community Development Council,
they were able to offer some financial assistance for our rent and electricity
as well as $350 a month to put food on the table.

Being unemployed was very stressful.

In the past, I tried different jobs, whatever I could do
with my set of skills, as long as employers were willing to give me work. At 16
years old, I was a department store cashier. At 21 years old, I became a sales

With my time divided amongst my children, I had very little
time left on my hands. I also did not have skills that I could use to earn
money while working from home such as sewing or baking.

On top of that, I breastfed my children and was
not ready to stop breastfeeding as it meant a lot to me being able to provide
for their nourishment as a mother.

Photo: Drink cans for recycling (Source:

Photo: Me (on the left) at one of the community conversations with my newfound circle of friends (Source: Beyond Social Services)

At the gathering, I met neighbours who were fellow mothers I
had avoided speaking to for years. These mothers were very nice and shared their
stories. I didn’t know that many had similar struggles, some even worse than

Photo: At some of these community conversations, the residents (including myself holding a card) shared our stories and discussed what we could collectively do for our community. (Source: Beyond Social Services)

The feeling I had was so warm and welcoming that I had a
brief respite from the problems I faced and enjoyed the company of the

For the community, by the community.

At events organised by the community of neighbours, for our
community, I opened up about our situation. Beyond staff helped my family with
diapers, milk and food rations.

More importantly, being involved in the community brought
out the positive side of me.

I learnt how to emcee, how to have good teamwork. I found
out that by sharing, I was able to receive even more help and support.

Photo: Myself (in front) and other residents having fun at one of the learning activities we organised with teachers from NIE for the community. (Source: Beyond Social Services)

The community of parents like myself organised several
events, such as a 3D2N workshop for single parents. Instead of others planning
for us, we planned and executed it ourselves, with support from Beyond.

We knocked on doors to identify homes with single parents,
invited them, planned the programme, arranged the transport, divided the
responsibilities, booked the venue and ran the event – I felt good that I was
able to do something for others.

Community conversations – revealing our dream for a home

We had been living in a rental flat for so long that I did
not imagine the possibility of owning my very own home.

If not for the Beyond core workshop that the community of us
parents organised for fellow parents, my family would not have thought about
discussing the dreams we wanted to achieve in five years’ time.

My children shared they wanted to have a place for our family
to call our own, and that struck a deep chord in me, because I realised I
forgot my dreams while struggling with our daily lives.

Photo: Being part of the community has given my family more
opportunities to bond. It was at one such event that we had a chance to discuss
our dreams in five years’ time, and realise we wanted to have our own home.
(Source: Beyond Social Services)

Will Mdm Zuraidah and
family achieve their dream?
Read the second part to learn Mdm Zuraidah’s