POST-NATIONAL DAY RALLY DIALOGUE ON PUBLIC HOUSING
POST-NATIONAL DAY RALLY DIALOGUE ON PUBLIC HOUSING
16 SEPTEMBER 2023, 2.30PM – 4.05PM
MINISTRY OF NATIONAL DEVELOPMENT BUILDING, ANNEXE A, AUDITORIUM
On 16 September 2023, 72 youths joined the Minister for National Development & Minister-in-charge of Social Services Integration, Mr Desmond Lee, in a dialogue to share their sentiments and concerns on housing and better understand the latest housing policy announcements. This session was co-organised by the National Youth Council (NYC) and the Ministry of National Development (MND).
The session was hosted by:
- Minister Desmond Lee – Minister for National Development and Minister-in-charge of Social Services Integration
The session was moderated by Ms Sabrina Soh, NYC INSPIRIT Youth Leader.
Opening remarks by Minister Desmond Lee
Social Compact on housing
- Minister Lee shared that the primary objectives of the public housing system were to (1) ensure affordable home ownership for all Singaporeans, (2) maintain a good social mix, and (3) keep the public housing system fair.
- Minister Lee said that the new framework was introduced to deter speculation and to lean against the social stratification and gentrification that was commonly observed in other global cities, and in doing so, would also enable and support Singaporeans to achieve their housing aspirations.
Changing housing landscape in Singapore
- Minister Lee shared that as Singapore’s housing landscape was changing, the distinction between “Mature Estates” (MEs) and “Non-Mature Estates” (NMEs) was blurring. He said that moving forward, there were fewer undeveloped tracts of land for developing new NMEs and that current NMEs had also become well-served by amenities and services.
- Minister Lee said that the Housing Development Board (HDB) would continue to build new flats across Singapore, but more of the supply could come from central areas. He said that this could provide more options for young families wishing to live near their parents.
- Minister Lee said that HDB would assess the market value of each flat and apply a significant subsidy to ensure that prices remained affordable. He said that a significant change had to be made to the way HDB classified and sold new flats to ensure the objectives of affordability, social mix and fairness continued to be held.
- Minister Lee shared that the new classification “Standard, Plus, Prime” would be adopted in the second half 2024. He said that the existing resale flats and flats under construction would not be affected.
- Minister Lee said that the new framework allowed HDB to price the Prime and Plus flats more affordably and ensured that resale prices were affordable for more Singaporeans.
- Minister Lee said that the new framework offered more choice to homebuyers, deterred speculative behaviour and moderated the housing market to keep public housing affordable to Singaporeans of a broader range of incomes.
Enhanced housing access for singles
- Minister Lee said that the government understood the needs and aspirations of singles and had increased the allocation quota and subsidies for singles. He said that under the new framework, singles would be able to purchase new two-room flats at all locations across Standard, Plus and Prime projects and would also be able to buy different flat types from the resale market.
- Minister Lee said that the government would continue exploring ways to better support the housing aspirations of singles.
Support for seniors
- Minister Lee shared that the Age Well SG programme, launched by PM Lee and led by the Ministry of Health (MOH), MND and Ministry of Trade (MOT), would support seniors to age gracefully in their homes and communities. He said that as part of the programme, the government had also expanded the Enhancement for Active Seniors (EASE) programme and offered more subsided fittings under EASE 2.0 to improve seniors’ homes.
- Minister Lee said that housing estates would be more senior-friendly with additional shelters, rest points and barrier-free access ramps for safer, more comfortable commutes for seniors. He also said that more colourful signages with symbols would help seniors identify routes easily and more health-promoting amenities to encourage seniors to stay active.
- Minister Lee shared that the government was developing Community Care Apartments (CCAs), senior-friendly housing integrated with care services tailored to seniors’ care needs, across various locations in Singapore, which would be launched later this year.
Context Setting by MND
New Housing Framework
- Mr Yam shared that the new housing framework aimed to cater to a broader range of needs, budgets, and preferences. He said that the Plus housing would be at choice locations within each region, with proximity to transport nodes and amenities. He also said that Prime housing would be at the choicest locations within Singapore, such as the city centre or the Greater Southern Waterfront (GSW).
- Mr Yam shared that the new framework introduced subsidy recovery on the resale of Plus and Prime housing to curb disproportionate windfall gains and ensure fairness with other flat buyers that did not receive the additional subsidies.
- Mr Yam said that tighter restrictions, i.e., a longer Minimum Occupation Period (MOP) of 10 years, would help to moderate the resale market and keep Prime and Plus housing affordable in the long term.
- Mr Yam also said that the 10-year MOP was intended to achieve a balance between the owner-occupation intent of public housing and flexibility for couples to move due to changes in life circumstances and that currently, most Singaporeans have stayed in their flats for more than ten years. He added that individuals with genuine need to move within the MOP could appeal to HDB, and these appeals would be considered on a case-by-case basis.
- Mr Yam added that co-living and intergenerational housing would continue to be studied to better address the needs of single caregivers and single elderly.
(In-person) A participant shared his concern over the 10-year Minimum Occupation Period (MOP) and suggested that those with genuine needs could be exempted from the 10-year MOP at the cost of higher subsidy clawback and reacquiring of their flat by HDB.
- Minister Lee said that the MOP had to be handled strictly to be fair to most Singaporeans. He acknowledged the participant’s suggestion to increase the subsidy clawback and for HDB to reacquire the flat before MOP instead of allowing it to enter the resale market for those who might have changing housing needs and said that there would need to be provisions for those who have genuine needs to change housing during the MOP.
(In-person) A participant asked if there would be a revision for the current income ceiling and how it would change.
- Minister Lee clarified that the income ceiling would be applied at two levels – (1) when purchasing a BTO and (2) when purchasing a resale Plus or Prime flat.
- Minister Lee said that the income ceilings applied for purchasing Prime and Plus resale flats after MOP were deliberately designed to avoid stratification.
- He shared that the current income ceiling of $14,000 was set in place as 8 in 10 Singaporeans fell within this income, and other public housing forms were available for those who exceed the income ceiling, e.g., resale flats. He said that as Singapore develops, the income ceilings would be reviewed, and the last review was in 2019.
(In-person) A participant asked if the government could review the policy that prevented private property owners from purchasing public housing immediately upon disposing of their private property, as the 15-month waiting window might be too long for certain individuals.
- Minister Lee shared that the 15-month wait was intended as a cooling measure to help stabilise resale housing prices. He said that it was a recent and temporary measure caused by the influx of private property owners buying higher-priced unsubsidised public housing flats. He said that this cooling measure would be reviewed when the market stabilised.
- Minister Lee added that seniors wanting to right-size from a private to a 4-room flat and families facing difficulties (e.g. retrenchment, divorce) could appeal to be exempted from this rule.
- Minister Lee said that the government already had a 30-month waiting time requirement for private property owners who wanted to purchase a subsidised HDB flat. He shared that this was a long-standing rule to ensure that those with the resources and means to purchase private housing were not competing with young Singaporeans starting with public housing.
(In-person) A participant asked if there would be distinctions within the (Greater Southern Waterfront) GSW and whether there were plans for intra-estate connectivity within large estates such as the GSW.
- Minister Lee said that housing within the GSW would predominantly be classified as Prime, as their high valuations would require more significant subsidies to make them affordable for most Singaporeans. He also said that tighter restrictions would be introduced for these flats.
- He added that there would be a mixture of all classifications of flats, albeit with a higher proportion of Plus and Prime flats, in the central region.
- Minister Lee shared that there were plans for active mobility in GSW, including ecological connectivity for Labrador Park, the rail corridor and the central catchment area.
(In-person) Participants asked how the government had decided on the income ceiling amount and if the government would consider helping the families and singles who exceeded the income ceiling slightly by offering a reduced subsidy for this group of people rather than excluding them.
- Minister Lee shared that the $14,000 income ceiling was computed based on statistics that 8 in 10 Singaporean households were covered within this income range and that the government consistently reviews the income ceiling and available grant schemes to ensure that public housing remains within reach of the majority of citizen households and that housing subsidies are given to those who need them most. He also said that for households and singles that marginally exceeded the income ceiling, HDB would consider their circumstances on a case-by-case basis.
(In-person) A participant asked if there would be 2-room flexi flats reserved for singles in projects across all locations.
- Minister Lee said that the government was enhancing housing access for singles, who could purchase new 2-room Flexi BTO flats island-wide in Standard, Plus, or Prime projects from the second half of 2024. He said that to meet the housing demand from singles and elderly looking to right-size, HDB would launch more 2-room Flexi flats and added that over the next three years, from 2024 to 2026, HDB would launch up to 14,000 2-room Flexi flats, an increase of about 30% over the past three years from 2021 to 2023. He also said that HDB had been working hard to catch up on delays and had done so for 70% of our delayed flats and shared that the median waiting time is now about 4-4.5 years, and HDB was pressing on to bring it down to 3-4 years by next year.
(In-person) A participant asked about the possibility of individuals profiting largely off Standard flats within the resale market, given the income ceiling restrictions would not apply to this category of flats.
- Minister Lee said that when these new reclassified flats entered the resale market in 15 years, the number would be proportionally small compared to the 1.1 million flats already in the resale market.
- He shared that the impact of any policy on the general HDB resale market in the future would be driven mainly by the economic cycle, household preferences and the affordability of different housing options (BTO and resale).
(Via Slido) Participants asked if the government would expect the Plus and Prime flats to cost more on the resale market since there would be subsidy clawback when selling these flats.
- Minister Lee explained that with the tighter restrictions, there would be lower valuation, and with additional subsidies, the government could ensure housing remained affordable for Singaporeans.
- He also said that subsidy recovery was introduced as a restriction to limit the windfall effect and ensure the affordability of flats in good locations for future first-time buyers.
- Minister Lee noted the possibility that resellers might attempt to push the subsidy recovery onto buyers by increasing prices but said that the transactions in the resale market would ultimately be dependent on transacting parties and prevailing economic conditions.
(Via Slido) Participants asked about the reason for having a different income ceiling for singles for Prime BTOs
- Minister Lee said that the tighter income ceiling for Prime flats was due to the lower supply of Prime BTOs and ensured that singles with modest incomes could also live in the choicest areas.
(Via Slido) Participants asked if construction timelines for BTOs would be affected given prevailing geopolitical conditions and if the government had units available for temporary subletting.
- Minister Lee said that COVID-19 had delayed construction timelines by up to 12 months. He said that some newer flats also took longer to build as they were more complicated projects, with sites that pose more challenging conditions, e.g. geographical locations with varying soil conditions, slopes, and projects with amenities such as sky gardens.
- Minister Lee said that measures were taken to reduce construction times by increasing productivity and standardisation with methods such as volumetric construction. He added that the government had introduced shorter waiting time flats in 2018. He said that while the supply had been affected by the pandemic, the government was getting back on track to grow the proportion of short waiting time flats offered in each launch.
(Via Slido) Participants asked about the apparent increase in defects in HDB launches and asked if projects were being rushed or if build quality was being compromised.
- Minister Lee said that while defects were inevitable, they would be rectified when reported. He said that the perceived prevalence of defects was due to HDB being the largest property developer in Singapore with a corresponding scale of developments.
(In-person) A participant asked how ‘proximity to transport nodes’ would be determined for classifying Plus flats.
- Minister Lee said that Plus and Prime classifications were primarily based on their valuations and the subsidies, and proximity to transport nodes was a prominent factor in property valuations.
(In-person) A participant asked if more 5-room flats would be launched in MEs to allow more families and prospective families to comply with the 10-year MOP without compromising their family planning.
- Minister Lee said that options would be available and that 5-room flats had already been launched in MEs, though in small numbers.
(In-person) A participant asked if there were mitigation plans for HDB flat owners in a financial crisis.
- Minister Lee shared that HDB had schemes in place to help Singaporeans defer payments and manage late payment interests and loans in cases of financial crises.
(In-person) Participants asked whether there would be spaces to cater to heavy vehicles for emergency response and whether there were plans to enhance heartland directories and incorporate digitalisation.
- Minister Lee said that there would be space for emergency responders per prevailing regulations, and there were plans to include more digital signages for information to be readily available to residents.
- Minister Lee said that smart homes that allowed utilities and power usage to be monitored by residents via smart devices had been previously introduced in Punggol Northshore projects.
(In-person) A participant asked if new flats were becoming progressively smaller, comparing new 5-room flats to older 3-room ones.
- Minister Lee shared that the size of HDB flats was changed once in 1997, and it was necessitated by land constraints, increased application rates and smaller household sizes. He said that Singapore was trending towards smaller households, with fewer three-generation households, increasing the number of singles and couples without children. He said that the government would have to balance Singaporeans’ housing aspirations and the need for space while ensuring enough land for the next generation of Singaporeans.
- Minister Lee added that the HDB had offered more flexibility in layouts, e.g., introducing beamless flats in Tengah and using dry walls as partition walls within flats. He said that the government was also considering other options, such as empty or customisable layouts that allowed owners to design their flats and reduce building materials wastage.
(In-person) A participant asked if people from broken families or estranged from living siblings could apply for a flat under the Orphan’s Scheme upon turning 21 instead of waiting until they turn 35 to apply as a single.
- Minister Lee said that siblings without parents could apply as a family nucleus. He also said that orphans estranged from living siblings or parents could appeal to the HDB for special consideration and assured that Singaporeans with genuine needs would be cared for.
Closing remarks by Minister Lee
- Minister Lee said that due to land constraints and as the only island city-state in the world, trade-offs had to be made as the government aimed to meet Singaporeans’ housing needs and aspirations.
- Minister Lee said that the government will continue to be bold in its vision and aspirations while being mindful of Singapore’s vulnerabilities and binding constraints.