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Musings On Race and Rent

This is written in response to this viral post

Before we dive into it, I suggest reading this Reddit thread

It’s important to hear from both sides. Understand the pain of our brothers and sisters who are victims of discrimination, while understanding the concerns of landlords. The internet is rife with horror stories. Anecdotally, some have spent tens of thousands to refurbish their homes after damage. A landlord is letting a person into their homes, often their lives.

Questions to keep in mind are:

Should this be something we legislate?

Are certain racial groups better tenants than others?

If I flip the question to focus on gender discrimination, should I force a woman to rent her spare room to a man?

I don't have the answers, and you probably won't find them in this post.

This issue goes beyond some screenshots in FB and anecdotes, its shocking how pervasive different types of discrimination are in the rental market. A yougov survey last year put the number of renters who faced racial discrimination at 1 in 4.

Ok, so it’s a problem... But what can we do?

Wake Up Singapore (@Wakeupsingapore) posted a useful infographic with some helpful practical solutions like reporting blatant incidences to CEA. These largely target housing agents, and while that’s a step in the right direction... They are simply taking direction from clients.

Proposing anti-discrimination laws sound good in theory, but they haven’t worked so well overseas. (US FHA, EU RED etc). The main issue which these methods is that discrimination is hard to prove, and when you ban a behaviour, it doesn't go away. You get vague responses such as profile doesn't match. As the founder of describes,

In one case, after the typical vague response of “Profile doesn’t match”, I pushed harder to ask “Is it because my wife is Indian?”, and the response was a dead-pan “Yes, thanks for your understanding”.

Companies like have programmes that offer a financial incentive to inclusive landlords, after it's founder, Darius, experienced discrimination because his wife was Indian. The commitment of property-listing platforms to the cause is a step in the right direction, but research by CNBC suggests landlords rather leave their homes vacant than deal with what they perceive will be difficult tenants.

Protecting Landlords, Protecting Victims

The same article suggests singapore renters adopt the practice of inserting fair wear and tear clauses, citing the case of Hong Kong, where tenants are often required to re-paint walls and re-polish floors of rental units to get back their security deposits. Like all ideas, this has it's own drawbacks. It burdens the court system and leaves tenants vulnerable.

Hopefully we can explore legislation further, but in my humble opinion, it seems like so long as renters hold negative stereotypes about other groups, discrimination will exist. The most crucial long term solution is to make sure we are exposed to a variety of races and backgrounds from a young age. Diversity, diversity, diversity.

It is not easy to eradicate an entire nations natural tendency towards an in-group bias, but history suggest we can. We already see the effects of racial policies and diversity at work. A majority of Singapores racial reforms occurred from 1985-1990***. Social studies and Racial Harmony day were introduced in 1997 and 2001 respectively. When you look at nation-wide studies on race, the greatest divergence in perception occurs between people who grew up with these policies, and people who didn’t.

(Of course this could be attributed to a number of factors. Age itself is a factor.)

If education is the key to tolerance, perhaps it's time we explored ethno-diversity in schools alongside racial harmony.

Do I have all the answers? Again, heck no. But if you have anything to add please leave me a message. My thoughts on this are always evolving.

Let me end with a quote from Dr Koh Eng Chuan from The ministry of Trade and Industry.

Integration of migrants will be a key area of focus in the coming years, particularly if Singapore will have to depend more and more on migrants for population growth with natural increase declining. While it has been argued before that Singapore was a migrant society to begin with, it should be noted that there were communal goals among the diverse population at the time of Independence, and some sense of shared identity today after 44 years as a nation. This is an important difference from the migrants of today, who may be entering society without the same sense of shared communal values. Do they integrate and adapt; do they preserve their own immigrant identity and work within their enclaves; do they change the current shared values; do they enrich Singapore as a cultural melting pot—these are issues which need to be further reviewed.

*Just to be clear, I am not taking a stand on the overall beneficence of the EIP. There has been much debate over its relevance, but as Minister Tharman put it, “The kids go to the same kindergarten, the kids go to the same primary school, because all over the world young kids go to school very near to where they live, and they grow up together.”

Thx for listening to my ted talk friends ❤️

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