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More BTO flats for second-timers, help for retirees and multi-generation families

Second timers applying for a Build-To-Order (BTO) flat, retirees looking to age-in-place, and multi-generation families have received a housing boost from the Ministry of National Development.

SINGAPORE: Second timers applying for a Build-To-Order (BTO) flat, retirees looking to age-in-place, and multi-generation families have received a housing boost from the Ministry of National Development.

National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan announced tweaks to balloting rules for second-timers during the Committee of Supply debate for his ministry in Parliament on Friday.

He said these are aimed at building strong families, encouraging Singaporeans to own their homes, and also to govern with a "heart" and help the less well-off.

Mr Khaw said when he stepped into the ministry a year ago, it was facing a "hot housing problem".

There were lessons to learn from pioneers who led Singapore's Housing Board.

He said they focused on the longer term greater good of many, putting community interest above self interest, and dared to try.

Mr Khaw said because of that, they turned Toa Payoh into a thriving modern township and Singapore into a world-renowned Garden City.

He recalled the work of those like the late Dr Toh Chin Chye and Mr Lim Kim San, the Housing Board's first Chairman.

Mr Khaw said under Mr Lim's watch, public housing and home ownership became firmly established and eventually, became the Singaporean way of life.

He said he stepped into an MND facing a severe mismatch in supply and demand, which, coupled with global liquidity and low interest rates, caused sharp spikes in housing prices.

Mr Khaw said: "The situation reminded me of a speech that the late Dr Goh Keng Swee made in 1980 on the plight of pig farmers. He spoke on what the economists refer to as the pig cycle. When the price of pork is high, pig farmers rear more pigs in the hope of making more money. However, when the piglets grow up and reach the market, there is a glut and prices drop. Farmers then cut the number of piglets they raise, thereby ensuring that when these mature, there will be a shortage and prices go up again."

He said months of corrective action have brought some stability to the housing market.

Mr Khaw said: "The best laid scheme can often go askew. This is particularly so for Singapore where the larger global environment, over which we have little control, can easily derail our projections. And that was how MND's housing projection and recent rebuilding programmes went askew, when our population shot past projections, mortgage interest rates plunged, and our economy made a surprisingly quick and strong rebound in 2010.

"And bear in mind how difficult it is for the construction industry to ramp up and slow down. There is a long lead time. Many months of corrective action, policy modifications and hard work have brought some stability to the housing market. We are not yet out of the tunnel, but we are seeing some light at the end of it."

Having ramped up the supply of new BTO flats, Mr Khaw said almost all first-timers (earning below $10,000) will be successful.

And he can now address the housing needs of others.

Currently, second-timers are allocated 5 percent of new flats across all categories.

Starting from the March BTO exercise, the percentage of flats in non-mature estates allocated to second-timers will be tripled to 15 percent.

Mr Khaw said this should cut the application rate for second-timers from more than 25 to a single digit.

HDB estimates the rate will drop to 8 or 9 applicants per flat offered.

However, the current allocation of 5 percent for second-timers will remain for BTO flats in mature estates and those offered through the Sale of Balance Flats Exercise.

Mr Khaw said this is so that first-timers can continue to enjoy top-priority in allocation.

He hinted that there may be further changes, as HDB will be studying the March BTO results before making the next tweak to balloting rules.

The allocation for Executive Condominiums will also be changed - second-timers will now have access to 30 percent of units.

Retirees looking to right-size their flats while aging in place will also receive more help.

HDB will launch 2,000 studio apartments this year, and many will be in the mature estates, said Mr Khaw.

To facilitate right-sizing, HDB has also introduced the Silver Housing Bonus and enhanced the Lease Buyback Scheme.

And responding to concerns from various MPs throughout the debate, Mr Khaw said his ministry is reviewing the CPF Retirement Account top-up criterion, which requires the proceeds from the sale of the flat to be put back into the CPF account.

Mr Khaw said he hopes to complete the review and announce details in a few months' time.

To support the elderly who prefer to remain in their neighbourhood, a new Ageing-in-Place Priority Scheme will be introduced.

Elderly applicants downsizing to a studio apartment, will be given double the number of ballot chances if the new flat is within 2 kilometres of their existing property.

This will also apply to elderly households downgrading from a private property.

HDB will also be building more flats in mature estates, including Bedok, Kallang, Whampoa and Geylang.

Thirty percent of BTO flats launched this year will be in mature estates - up from 14 percent last year.

Mr Khaw said this will allow more young families to benefit from the Married Child Priority Scheme.

The scheme will also be tweaked.

Currently, the scheme makes no distinction between couples living near or together with their parents, and the applicants get four ballot chances.

With the changes, first-time applicants who apply for a BTO flat to live with their parents will receive six ballot chances.

HDB will also introduce the Multi-Generation Priority Scheme to give more options for families to stay together.

Mr Khaw said: "Many Singaporean families want to live together, or at least near to one another. This forges strong families, besides making a lot of practical sense. Grandparents help to look after their grandchildren; grandparents remain active and healthy; children set good example of filial piety. These are strong values which we must inculcate."

Under the scheme, a larger flat is paired with a studio apartment or 2-room flat, allowing joint selection by a young couple and their elderly parents.

Those who are eligible and apply for the scheme will have priority in the queue.

Up to 250 pairs of such units will be launched in various estates, starting with the Bedok BTO project in March.

Mr Khaw said more attention will also be paid to Singaporeans who are in distress due to circumstances beyond their control.

This includes those who face a sudden death of a breadwinner, major illness of a family member or severe disabilities.

Mr Khaw said these are victims of misfortune and sometimes policies and rules "leave them cold on the wrong side".

The minister added that he has impressed on his MND colleagues that the default position is to try to say "yes" and give such victims a leg up at a time of need.

Wrapping up his speech, Mr Khaw said he shared MP Lee Bee Wah's concerns that the values of family, marriage and filial piety are getting diluted.

He cited the worrying signs of rising divorce rates and abandonment of parents.

Mr Khaw said MND policies must not unwittingly facilitate such negative trends.

Going forward, Mr Khaw highlighted three challenges that will shape the National Development Ministry's workplan.

One is preparing for an aged society.

Mr Khaw said more nursing homes and day care will be needed, but there is no one size that will fit all.

His ministry will have to try many more models to see which works.

Another challenge is maintaining Singapore's competitive edge as a world-class city.

Beyond a vibrant physical landscape, Mr Khaw said Singapore must cultivate a graciousness founded on the ethos of inclusiveness, compassion and kindness.

He said the work of his ministry, finally, goes beyond building homes - to building communities.

Mr Khaw said: "We used to live in kampongs where everyone knows everyone. There is a general consensus on how we can live together. We take care of one another, gotong-royong, and our little kampong.

"There are many reasons for the loss of the kampong spirit. But we need to find ways to encourage residents to own their community and to care for one another again. To be sure, there are areas in Singapore where the kampong spirit remains strong. I'm most proud and happy that in my constituency, the kampong spirit is very strong ... we need to find out how such spirit can be replicated in many more places."

Source: CNA/de

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