SINGAPORE: The Housing and Development Board (HDB) will set up a team dedicated to helping rental households attain eventual home ownership, said Senior Parliamentary Secretary for National Development Sun Xueling on Tuesday (Mar 5).
Speaking during the Building a Society of Opportunities joint segment during the Committee of Supply debate, Ms Sun said that the Home ownership Support Team (HST) will provide "stronger, personalised hand-holding for families who are ready for home ownership".
The segment centered around the work done by four ministries - National Development (MND), Manpower (MOM), Social and Family Development (MSF) and Education (MOE) - in addressing issues of inequality and social mobility.
"We agree that public rental should only be temporary for tenants who are work-capable, and are therefore increasing support to help tenants progress towards home ownership," Ms Sun said. "We have learnt that having someone to consult, and more importantly, to provide the human touch, is important for our tenants."
The HST, which will be set up later this year, will help tenants to navigate home ownership policies and processes. This could include discussing the options that would best meet their needs and budget, guiding them through the purchase, and checking in to ensure that the family remains on track for key collection.
The team will aim to reach out to 1,000 households over the next four to five years, said an HDB spokesperson in response to queries from Channel NewsAsia.
HDB currently advises rental tenants to consider moving towards home ownership during their tenancy renewal, the spokesperson added.
The HDB had gained a "better understanding" of how best to support tenants through the Fresh Start Housing Scheme (Fresh Start), which was introduced in 2016 to help second-timer rental families with children buy a two-room flat, said Ms Sun.
Some for instance, needed advice on budgeting for a flat purchase, while others shared that they appreciated the face-to-face support from the Fresh Start team, she added.
As of last month, 74 families have joined Fresh Start, five of which have collected their keys, said Ms Sun.
Families on the scheme can get a grant of up to S$35,000.
"These numbers may seem small, but for those who benefit from the scheme, the help provided means a lot and we want them to succeed in their home ownership journey," she said.
Ms Sun added that for some tenants, home ownership may not be an immediate goal. These tenants may have more immediate concerns such as addressing family conflicts.
"Our priority is to help these families stabilise," she said.
As such, HDB will be providing spaces for MSF to establish social service hubs near rental flats to offer localised programmes and services. When those families have stabilised, HDB will engage them on home ownership, she said.
"We are heartened that last year, about 1,300 (rental) households moved into home ownership. These numbers have increased steadily in the last few years. We want to keep this up, and will work hard to partner our tenants in their efforts," added Ms Sun.
"Home ownership gives Singaporeans a stake in our country, and gives each family a permanent place to call their own."
Earlier in the joint segment, Minister of State for Manpower Zaqy Mohamad addressed how the Government helps lower-income workers.
He pointed out that between 2012 and 2017, lower-income workers had higher income growth than those on the median salary. Real wages of workers at the 20th percentile grew by 24 per cent cumulatively, while in comparison, workers earning the median salary grew by 21 per cent.
In addition, this individual income growth translated into increasing household incomes, said Mr Zaqy.
"These outcomes did not happen by chance," he said. "They arise from multiple layers of support to upskill our workers, to uplift their wages, while keeping unemployment low and employment high."
This multi-layered support is also "more responsive to the varied needs of our lower-income individuals than any single minimum wage or living wage", added Mr Zaqy.
"The cost of wage supplement is fully borne by the Government, with no cost passed on to employers or consumers. Importantly, we achieved significantly faster real median income growth and ranked high on employment rates compared to other developed countries."