SINGAPORE: By pursuing homeownership as a key national policy, the Government has improved the lives of Singaporeans significantly, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in a speech on Friday (Aug 24), following key announcements on housing policy at Sunday’s National Day Rally.
"The Government has long pursued home ownership as a key national policy, for many good reasons," he said as he launched a book - Critical Issues in Asset Building in Singapore’s Development.
Owning their own homes gives Singaporeans "a stake in the country" and something to fight for when the "chips are down", said Mr Lee.
"It enables every Singaporean to share in our economic growth, because as the economy grows, so will the value of your home," he said. "And nearly every household has a substantial asset to its name, even low-income households."
This housing policy has helped the country avoid the extremes of poverty often seen in even affluent societies, he added.
"We could have left housing largely to the private market, like Hong Kong. We could have controlled rents, like in San Francisco; or we could have provided rental flats at subsidised rates to tenants," he said. "But none of these alternatives would have achieved the same economic and social results as home ownership."
Mr Lee had unveiled major housing policies at the National Day Rally on Sunday, including the Government’s plans to expand the Home Improvement Programme to newer flats, to upgrade every HDB flat twice in its lifespan and to take back Housing & Development Board (HDB) flats to redevelop old towns at a measured pace under the Voluntary Early Redevelopment Scheme or VERS.
READ: ‘Ambitious’ housing, healthcare plans are ‘fundamental commitments’ to Singaporeans, says PM Lee at NDR 2018
He also explained at length why HDB flats have a 99-year lease at the rally.
"We need to be fair to future generations … After (99 years), the flat comes back to the state, the Government redevelops the land, and builds new flats for future generations. This is the only way to recycle the land," he had said.
Responding to commentators who said that the 99-year lease is merely an extended rental, Mr Lee said: "I find this argument, frankly, amazing."
"Many private properties are held on 99-year leases too, yet nobody argues that they are merely being rented," he said.
"HDB lessees have all the rights over their flats that owners of such leasehold private properties have."
He also touched on how the Central Provident Fund has helped Singaporeans build up their assets, and said: "Our asset-building approach emphasises individual work ethic and personal responsibility, supported by government policies and resources."
Mr Lee added that the support of Singaporeans for these policies is one of the nation’s "intangible assets".
The country's shared values and social norms such as intolerance for corruption and acceptance of National Service as a necessary sacrifice, underpin Singapore’s society and unity, he stressed.
"These intangibles hold us together as one people. They enable our society to solve problems and make progress in ways which are very difficult for others to emulate," he said.
These intangible assets are discussed in the book co-edited by National University of Singapore associate professors Dr S Vasoo and Professor Bilveer Singh, Mr Lee added.
"It is important for academics in our universities and think tanks to study and debate issues that are of importance to Singapore," he said.
"It will help us to understand the issues better, come up with better solutions, see things in a fresh perspective, and move our debate, policy and outcomes forward."