(Dover residents find that such social communal facilities have long since been integrated into their lives. Image courtesy of Sengkang.)
For one, these void decks provide great accessibility to the community. Said Alfred Tan, executive director of the Singapore Children’s Society to The Straits Times, “Some of our centres are located in void decks where there are lots of youngsters hanging around, so it makes them more effective drop-in centres.”
Tan explained that the organisation began branching out to Housing Board (HDB) void decks in the 1980s—a deliberate move to get closer to its beneficiaries. Six of the Children’s Society’s 10 branches are currently located at void decks.
He also cited another benefit: cheaper rents. According to Tan, the organisation would have easily incurred four or five times more rent should they have set up shop in a commercial building.
Similarly, Joyce Lye—founder of the Kampung Senang Charity and Education Foundation—said running the elderly day-care centre at a Tampines void deck opened up the opportunity to seek subsidised rent from the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports (MCYS).
She told The Straits Times her void deck space costs merely one-third of the current market rate—an amount that has not changed since the centre commenced some 13 years ago. Lye noted she would have to fork out up to $4,000 a month otherwise.
The Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE) is another welfare organisation that has bucked the void deck trend, housing its offices, helpline centre, research centre, as well as counselling rooms within a 2,500 sq ft void deck facility in Dover Crescent. Executive director Corinna Lim told The Straits Times that its previous location at Race Course Road was not as accessible.
HDB informed The Straits Times that welfare groups, which offer social and communal services like childcare facilities and senior activity centres, are often set up at void deck spaces with support from relevant ministries.
There are currently some 640 social communal premises at HDB void decks, operated by over 230 voluntary groups and non-profit organisations. The HDB charges them rent of between $1.50 and $4.50 per sq m each month, depending on if they have built their own premises. These rates have stayed the same over the past decade.
MCYS echoed sentiments that many such centres are situated at void decks to serve the immediate community more conveniently. A spokesperson told The Straits Times that it plans the locations for these centres and examines proposals from those requesting to set up at HDB void decks, taking into consideration “the profiles and needs of the residents in the community and the demand for such services”.
Businesses, however, are charged commercial rates for using void deck premises. One such enterprise is Cherie Hearts kindergarten, who has 12 such centres under its belt after moving to the heartlands in 2004.
During a Straits Times visit to estates where social communal centres are commonplace, residents expressed that such facilities have long since been integrated into their neighbourhoods. Dover Crescent, for instance, has about five such facilities within a four-block area.
Yong Fui Hean, a business owner and resident, commented that he sends his children to the childcare centre in Block 3. “I think having these facilities nearby makes it very convenient for those who need to use them. Protesting against having them is selfish.”