SINGAPORE: Ms Norashikin Rahman is worried she may not have a shelter over her head next month.
The 29-year-old Malaysian, who lives in Johor Bahru, is scheduled to enter Singapore via the Periodic Commutive Arrangement (PCA) scheme on Sep 1. The scheme allows her to resume work for her company, a computer chip manufacturing firm based in the north-eastern part of Singapore.
As part of the PCA, she will serve a seven day stay-home notice (SHN) upon arrival, at a facility paid for by her company, and undertake a COVID-19 swab test.
After she finishes her SHN and tests negative for COVID-19, Ms Norashikin would need to move to a place to stay.
The mother of two young children has been trying for weeks to secure a suitable room that is close to her work place and within her budget, but to no success.
“My budget is only S$300, but for rooms in Yishun, the rent I have been quoted for are at least S$650.
“The prices quoted are way beyond my budget. I won’t have enough money for my family or my living expenses in Singapore,” she said when interviewed by CNA.
Ms Norashikin is one of many Malaysians who are heading to Singapore to resume work under the ambit of the PCA, but are struggling to find suitable homes on short notice, at the right price and with short rental leases.
Some of them are using social media groups to find rental options and connect with other Malaysians looking to rent rooms at similar locations.
For instance, the Facebook group Bilik Sewa Singapore (Malaysian), or rooms for rent in Singapore for Malaysians, has been abuzz with many posts in recent weeks, with people looking for roommates and landlords posting rental opportunities.
Although there are options available, Ms Norashikin said many landlords are looking for tenants who are willing to commit for between six months to a year.
She is not willing to do this as she plans to return home after three months. Subsequently, she is hoping that the two governments can find a solution to resume daily commuting across the border.
“For the long term, I don’t think I want to continue renting here. It’s important for me to be close to my child and family and see them every day,” she said.
READ: FAQ: How can workers travel between Singapore and Malaysia and what are the COVID-19 protocols in place?
Another Malaysian who will also be entering Singapore to work via PCA in September is Mr Fakhrul Adlee, who works in the western part of Singapore.
He told CNA that he has been looking for suitable rental options on the Bilik Sewa Singapore Facebook group for a couple of weeks but has found it “challenging”.
He noted that there were limited options for rooms in the area he wants to stay in – near Jurong East or Toh Guan.
“Also, the rent quoted is quite high. My budget is S$350, slightly flexible, but so far nothing falls into the range I can afford,” he said.
Mr Fakhrul added that many of the options available were only for female tenants, and virtually none for males.
RENT ON THE RISE FOR UNITS NEAR INDUSTRIAL AREAS: PROPERTY ANALYSTS
According to Mr Nicholas Mak, ERA Realty's research and consultancy head, Malaysian workers who are looking for rental units are typically “more budget conscious”. He also said that a total of six tenants would usually share an entire HDB unit to lower costs.
Moreover, there has been an increase in demand for HDB rental units recently, especially near industrial estates in Jurong, Tuas, Woodlands, Yishun and Kaki Bukit, he said.
“Malaysians who are coming here to work is a big factor in driving up demand for these units. They are far from the city centre and are popular among Malaysian workers, who prefer to live in a place easily accessible to their places of work,” added Mr Mak.
He said that this has led to some landlords in these areas raising the prices.
“For example, the rent for a 4-room HDB unit in Joo Koon would typically cost around S$2,300 but recently, the prices have spiked to around S$2,700. This price is what you usually see for flats closer to the city.”
Ms Christine Sun, head of research and consultancy at OrangeTee & Tie, said that the increase in HDB rental demand can be linked to Malaysians working in Singapore.
“Anecdotally, we have observed strong rental demand from Malaysians working in Singapore since the start of the circuit breaker period.
“Even now, with some of the border lockdowns being eased recently, many are still reluctant to travel back as they need to serve their stay-home-notice and have continued to rent a unit in Singapore,” she added.
According to SRX flash estimates released on Aug 12, the prices for the HDB rental market in July increased by 1.4 per cent from June.
Ms Sun said this was possibly due to landlords raising their rent after observing a sudden surge in demand.
Malaysian worker Imran Malik told CNA that he is due to enter Singapore via PCA in two weeks but he is “feeling anxious” because he believes the higher demand has priced him out of the market.
“It’s obvious, many of the landlords have noticed an increase in demand for their units so they upped their asking price. Some have even refused to reply to my queries to negotiate price,” he said.
“And to share a room, they are charging around S$700. It’s not worth it because some of them have no air-con even,” added Mr Imran.
The issue of Malaysian workers having difficulties finding temporary shelter in Singapore first surfaced in March, after the Malaysia government imposed the Movement Control Order to curb the spread of COVID-19.
Under the order, all Malaysians were barred from travelling abroad, including around 300,000 Malaysians who travel across the Woodlands Causeway and Tuas Second Link every day for work.
It was then reported that some Malaysian workers who had crossed over to Singapore before the travel restrictions kicked in were unable to find accommodation.
Subsequently, Singapore’s Ministry of Manpower (MOM) said it found 14 Malaysian workers who were sleeping rough at Kranji MRT station and took them to a "temporary relief centre" in Jurong East.
Ms Sun of OrangeTee & Tie said if the landlords and tenants can find an equilibrium now, it may help to prop up Singapore's property market going forward.
“We have quite a number of Malaysians working in Singapore. Therefore, the PCA and some lockdown restrictions that are still currently in place may deter Malaysians from going back. This will continue to prop up the rental market in Singapore,” she said.
However, she noted that the long term future of these workers might not be secure given how COVID-19 has impacted the Singapore economy.
“There will also be other considerations such as whether the economic uncertainties will impact the job security and employment of Malaysian workers in Singapore,” Ms Sun noted.