Learning from the COVID-19 situation at dormitories, with the aim of reducing the density of dormitories, the Singapore Government has announced a major programme to build additional dormitories with higher standards over the coming months and years. At the same time, a pilot improved set of standards for dormitories has been released.

According to a press release by the Ministry of Manpower, in the short- to medium- term, the Government is looking to create additional space to house around 60,000 workers by the end of 2020. 

This will be achieved through the following measures: 

  • New Quick Build Dormitories (QBDs) that will last for around two to three years. These are temporary structures that can be constructed quite quickly in a modular form with a low density, with each QBD housing about 500-1000 workers per hectare, depending on the site conditions. The QBDs will have around 25,000 capacity in total. Planned sites for these new QBDs include Kranji Way, Jalan Tukang, Choa Chu Kang Way, and Tampines Industrial Ave 2.
  • Temporary fitting out of currently unused state properties, including former schools and vacant factories. These will have around 25,000 capacity in total. Properties under in this plan include vacant factories such as 36 Sungei Kadut St 1, former schools including the former Serangoon JC, vacant state properties such as 191 AMK Ave 8, and other sites such as the Tentages at NSRCC Kranji. 
  • Additional Construction Temporary Quarters (CTQs) built by contractors to house their workers at the worksite and cut down on transportation needs. We are still discussing with the contractors on the additional CTQs that they will need for their workers.

In the longer term, the Government is planning for new purpose-built dormitories (PBDs) to house up to 100,000 workers to replace the above short- to medium-term housing. 

This new building programme will take several years to complete, but the aim is to have about 11 such new PBDs ready over the next one to two years. All of these PBDs will have amenities like minimarts, barber services, indoor recreation facilities and will have blocks well spaced out to ensure good ventilation. Workers living in the PBDs will also have ready access to medical care and support.

The additional PBDs will also enable the Government to transfer workers from the existing dormitories and to undertake major upgrading to these dormitories to ensure that they meet the new standards.

Pilot set of improved standards and dorm operating model

In addition to expanding capacity to house migrant workers, government agencies are developing a set of specifications for these new dormitories. The specifications will look into the design, facilities, management and regulation of these dormitories, and will factor in social interaction and disease response needs.

The aim is to make dormitory living and design more resilient to public health risks including pandemics, with improved living standards that are benchmarked both domestically and internationally.

The Government will take on board lessons learnt from the current COVID pandemic, as well as seek feedback from relevant stakeholders. As a start, the pilot improved set of standards at the new QBDs are as follows:

  • Living space
    Current: At least 4.5sqm per resident, including shared facilities.
    Improved: At least 6sqm per resident, not including shared facilities.
  • Occupancy per room
    Current: No maximum beds per room. In practice, 12-16 beds per room. Mostly double-decker beds.
    Improved: 10 or fewer beds per room. Use of single deck bed only, with 1m spacing between beds.
  • Toilets
    Current: At least one set of toilet, bathroom, sink and urinal: 15 beds.
    Improved: At least one set of toilet, bathroom and sink to five beds.
  • Sick bay and isolation facility
    Current: At least one sick bay bed per 1,000 bed spaces. Additional isolation spaces (to be stood up if needed) at 19 beds per 1,000 bed spaces.
    Improved: At least 15 sick bay beds per 1,000 bed spaces. Additional isolation spaces (to be stood up if needed) at 10 beds per 1,000 bed spaces.

After assessing the effectiveness, scalability, and sustainability of the pilot, the Government may make adjustments to the standards for permanent new dormitories.

The Government is also studying the possibility of developing the new PBDs on a different model compared to the present system, where currently land is released for the commercial operators to bid, build or operate. The options are being studied comprehensively and findings will be shared in due course.

The MOM noted: "While the physical standards are being improved, it is equally important to uplift the capabilities of dormitory operators and make adjustments to the daily living habits of the dormitory residents. Everyone must do their part to minimise the risk of infection clusters. The pilot will therefore also seek to instil a new level of discipline on safe living within dormitories.

"Given our land constraints, some dormitories will inevitably be located closer to residential areas. Singaporeans must therefore do our part too. We must reject the Not in My Backyard (NIMBY) mindset and instead appreciate these workers who keep Singapore going."

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