The lead story on the front page of the Straits Times (18 Dec 2012: Dormitory operators unite to raise standards) was about eight dormitory operators founding a new Dormitory Association of Singapore (DASL) in September this year. More interestingly, the story provided some numbers about dormitory beds in Singapore.

It said that these eight companies together “provide more than 100,000 of the estimated 150,000 bed spaces in purpose-built dorms.”

It also reported that “There are about 20 companies in Singapore running 39 purpose-built dorms,and many more that run several hundred factory-converted dorms.”  These 39 dorms however, are all full.

Moreover, “They do not need to obtain a licence from the Government to operate,” which leads to questionable standards in accommodation.

Today reported (18 Dec 2012) that

A set of more than 50 benchmarks – including living space of between 4 and 5.5 sq m for each worker, adequate ventilation, access to adequate and convenient supply of potable water – has also been drawn up, with an accreditation scheme in the works and which will possibly be ready next year.

Singapore had 722,800 foreign workers on Work Permits in the non-domestic sector as at June 2012 (see Manpower minister provides 5-year data for foreign workforce numbers).

Channel NewsAsia reported:

The group also plans to work with the authorities to get more land for housing.

“At the moment, roughly, we are able to meet the needs for accommodation for work permit holders. The plan for the future will depend very much on whether the number of foreign workers increases substantially,” said Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Manpower Hawazi Daipi.

Meanwhile the National Development Ministry said it will launch new dormitories, depending on the immediate and longer-term demand for foreign worker housing.

The new dormitories will also be more self-contained and have a more conducive living environment.

The ministry said this in response to queries from Channel NewsAsia on the Dormitory Association of Singapore’s goal to work with authorities to get more land to build more dorms for workers.

The ministry said there is still strong demand for dormitories. But the speed at which new dormitories can be launched and completed depends on a number of factors.

These include land availability and the time required to prepare the site and infrastructure.

— Channel NewsAsia, 17 Dec 2012, Foreign workers’ dormitories could be accredited, by Sara Grosse/Hetty Musfira

In a separate article, the Straits Times reported the concerns of Member of Parliament Yeo Guat Kwang, who is  also chairman of NTUC-affiliated Migrant Workers’ Centre.  He said that monthly rent at purpose-built dormitories has gone up significantly in recent years because of a shortage of bed spaces and  if rent rates continue to rise, employers may be forced to house more foreign workers in Housing Board flats.

In 2005, workers each paid about $95 a month to rent a bed space in these dorms. But the price has gone up to between $280 and $300 now.

In contrast, rent prices at HDB flats are relatively cheaper: It costs a worker about $200 every month to live in a flat.

“My concern is that if we do not have enough accommodation for these workers, they may actually move on to thinking of HDB rental as an alternative… This may cause inconvenience to some residents,” said Mr Yeo.

— Straits Times, 18 Dec 2012, Shortage of dorms, rising rents raise concerns, by Amelia Tan

The newspaper said that an estimated 150,000 live in purpose-built dorms and another 100,000 in rented HDB flats. Some 50,000 live in factory-converted dorms while the rest live in construction site quarters, temporary housing such as shipping containers, and residential premises such as shophouses and landed homes.

Explaining why there is a shortage of dorms, DASL president Kelvin Teo said one of the reasons is that the Government has released fewer plots of land in recent years. “The preference is to locate the dorms in more remote places, but even these places are used to build HDB flats now,” said Mr Teo.