Singapore looking at how to further prioritise access to public housing for those with pressing needs
SINGAPORE: Singapore is studying ideas and looking at how to further prioritise access to public housing for those with more pressing housing needs, even within the first-timer group, said Minister for National Development Desmond Lee.
This comes as it looks at ways to keep public housing accessible and affordable.
Mr Lee was speaking at the Ministry of National Development (MND) and National Youth Council (NYC) Forward Singapore engagement on Sunday (Nov 20).
In his opening remarks, he said that young adults have voiced concerns about the availability of affordable public housing amid strong competition and high application rates.
On the supply of flats, he said that the Housing and Development Board (HDB) has worked hard to manage the construction delays brought about over the last two years by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The number of Build-To-Order (BTO) projects delayed by six months or more has fallen, from more than 80 per cent of all projects in 2021, to less than 50 per cent currently.
The BTO flat supply has also been ramped up, Mr Lee added, citing a "bumper crop" of almost 10,000 HDB flats in 10 different projects in this month's BTO sales launch.
The bulk of BTO units is also set aside for those buying their first HDB flat.
Mr Lee said that some first-timers may be unsuccessful with their ballots as they may be applying for flats in mature estates or in Sale of Balance Flats (SBF) exercises, where the application rates are "very high".
"I understand that young couples may have locational preferences. They want to stay near their parents for mutual care and support," Mr Lee said.
Additionally, the preference for flats in the mature estates could have stemmed from past beliefs of better amenities and transportation networks in these mature estates
"However, as the 'non-mature estates' come of age and the lines between them and the 'mature' estates blur, such distinctions may become less relevant," he said, adding that Singapore is currently reviewing whether its estate classification should be adjusted to keep pace with the times.
But Mr Lee said that most people agreed that the priority for housing should be for those looking to purchase their first home.
"However, even within the first-timer applicants, Singaporeans acknowledged that there are varying degrees of urgency in their housing needs," he said.
Most agreed that first-timer couples who already have children but are without their own home should be prioritised ahead of those who are existing homeowners, he said.
Most people also agreed that lower-income families should be given more support and priority. At the same time, it was pointed out that seniors and singles also have genuine needs that should be considered.
"We are studying all these ideas and how we can further prioritise access to public housing for those with more pressing housing needs, even within the first-timer group.
"But, as you can tell, it is not easy to reach a consensus on how we define whose needs are more urgent, as evident from the direct tensions observed from the suggestions we have received," Mr Lee said.
Another concern of many Singaporeans is the rising prices of HDB resale flats, said Mr Lee.
The introduction of market measures, most recently in September this year, was "to promote a sustainable property market".
He added that HDB will not hesitate to "act decisively but carefully to ensure affordability in the resale market".
"Decisively because we want to make sure that the property market does not run ahead of economic fundamentals and important not to allow bubbles to form, but also carefully because the road ahead is not clear – geopolitical challenges, economic challenges in almost all the major markets and also rising interest rates and borrowing costs, including for existing homeowners and homebuyers," he said.
He pointed out that BTO prices have been kept relatively stable through subsidies – the average price for a new 4-room flat in a non-mature estate was S$341,000 before grant in 2019, and in the first three quarters of 2022, it was S$348,000.
He added that grants are also provided to eligible homebuyers - first-time homebuyers can receive housing grants of up to S$160,000 for resale flats. For BTO flats, first-timer homebuyers can receive housing grants of up to S$80,000, on top of the subsidies in new flat prices.
There were suggestions on how to curb high resale prices, said Mr Lee.
For instance, some called for HDB to disallow transactions on the resale market with cash-over-valuation. Others suggested that HDB flats should be restricted to owner-occupation only. Some even asked if Singapore can do away with the resale market.
Mr Lee said: "There are no easy answers, no straightforward answers."
"Every idea comes with pluses and minuses, but we will certainly benefit from having more minds, including your minds, put to these issues."