Ms Hazel Poa asked the Minister for National Development (a) how many wheelchair-bound HDB residents currently live on floors without lift access; and (b) in the last three years, how many cases of complaints have been received annually from wheelchair-bound HDB residents over accessibility problems within HDB blocks and estates.
Mr Desmond Lee: With an ageing society and a ever-growing number of senior citizens, more and more HDB residents may face mobility issues and even require the use of wheelchairs. We recognise the increasing need for barrier free accessibility in our HDB estates, which is why we have over the years set out a range of programmes, in full anticipation that all residents may one day have mobility needs.
In 1990, the Code on Barrier Free Accessibility in Buildings was introduced to set minimum standards for barrier-free accessibility in and outside buildings. This was complemented by BCA’s barrier-free accessibility programme in 2006 to address older buildings built before the Code. In 2012, when the programme was completed, close to 8,000 HDB blocks were made barrier free by retrofitting them with features such as ramps and railings, and by leveling of steps. All new HDB estates are built with barrier-free access features, which include wider corridors for wheelchair movement, and a wheelchair accessible bathroom within the flat. HDB also provides other features such as wheelchair-accessible letter boxes and planters for community planting. Barrier-free accessibility, of course, also applies to connectivity between blocks, key precinct facilities and amenities as well as traffic crossings and transportation nodes.
In 2001, HDB introduced the Lift Upgrading Programme (LUP) to provide direct lift access to flats and enhance convenience for residents, especially the elderly and less mobile. At the start of the LUP, there were more than 5,300 HDB blocks without full direct lift access. Over the years, through the use of innovative technical solutions, HDB has provided LUP for the vast majority of these blocks. Today, there remain about 150 blocks where it is still not possible to implement the LUP due to prohibitive costs or existing technical constraints, such as limited space to build new lift shafts.
While HDB will continue to explore possible ways to bring direct lift access to these blocks, we recognized that some residents may urgently require direct lift access due to medical or mobility issues. Hence, in March last year, HDB introduced the Lift access Housing Grant (LHG) of up to $30,000, to help those with medical or mobility issues buy a new or resale HDB flat with direct lift access. As at February 2021, HDB has approved 22 applications for the LHG and is evaluating another four applications.
To further help some of our less mobile residents, HDB also enhanced its Enhancement for Active Seniors (EASE) programme in December 2018 to include two new improvement items – a portable ramp and a customised ramp – to help residents living in HDB flats with multi-step entrances move in and out of their homes with greater ease. Since December 2018, more than 1,900 ramps have been successfully installed. Where ramp solutions are not feasible, a wheelchair lifter is offered as an option in a pilot programme launched in December 2018. As of end February 2021, a total of 10 wheelchair lifters had been installed. I encourage residents who want to make their flats more senior-friendly, be it for themselves or for the seniors living with them, to apply for EASE directly with HDB, or opting for the EASE improvement items when their flats undergo the Home Improvement Programme (HIP).
Nothwithstanding, we acknowledge that there is always more we and the Town Councils can do, and we have improvement programmes such the Neighbourhood Renewal Programme to upgrade our estates over time. HDB does not track the number of wheel-chair bound residents in our flats. But I can assure the Member that HDB will attend to every case of a resident requesting help with mobility issues, and do its best to assist such residents. Over the past year, HDB received 27 cases of feedback on wheelchair accessibility within HDB blocks and estates.