Decisions on prioritising limited resources to be done collectively to fulfil housing aspirations

At a Forward SG dialogue session, over 70 participants discussed their concerns, considerations and dilemmas in housing allocation.

Edwin Chan

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Published: 21 November 2022, 10:54 PM

The availability of affordable public housing amid strong competition and high application rates have been a cause of concern and anxiety among young Singaporeans.

Many have shared their concerns and suggestions for housing matters with the Government through various engagements and conversations in the past few months.

One of such engagements is a dialogue titled Our Homes, Our Future, held on Sunday (Nov 20), in support of the Forward Singapore Build Pillar. 

Organised by the Ministry of National Development (MND) and the National Youth Council (NYC), the session was attended by the Minister for National Development Desmond Lee and over 70 participants.

The participants took part in an experiential breakout card game, where they were presented a scenario which required them to allocate 100 flats to 200 different applicants of varying needs. The types of applicants include seniors, existing homeowners, first timers, elderlies and public rental flat tenants.

Through the game, the participants got to discuss their considerations and dilemmas in planning the allocation.

Here are some key takeaways from the session:

1. The distinction between “mature” and “non-mature” estate become less relevant over time

Mr Lee shared that the preference for flats in mature estates could have stemmed from past belief that these estates provide better amenities and transportation networks.

However, he pointed out that as “non-mature estates” come of age, lines between them and “mature” estates will blur, making the distinction less relevant. 

“For example, those staying in Sengkang and Jurong East, currently classified as non-mature estates, may share with you the wide array of amenities in their towns, which are comparable to those in mature estates,” he said. 

Mr Lee added that the Government is currently reviewing whether the estate classification should be adjusted to keep pace with the times. 

He also encouraged couples to consider applying for BTO flats in “non-mature” estates with lower application rates.

“Our records show that nine out of 10 first timer applicants have been invited to book a flat within two tries, and virtually all succeed within three tries, if they apply for a BTO flat in the non-mature estates.”

2. We need to think of ways to provide new homes by redeveloping our current HDB towns and estates

With land constraint in Singapore, the country will have less open land readily available for the construction of new towns and HDB flats. 

On top of this is the desire by many to retain greenery and heritage, instead of using the spaces for new homes and other developments, said Mr Lee.

“So we will need to think of ways to provide new homes by redeveloping our current HDB towns and estates. As our designs and technology progressed over the years, it is timely to relook at our older estates, optimise the land they are on, and bring them up to date,” he added. 

Mr Lee further emphasised that those living nearby these estates will then need to put up with the construction and some loss of amenities. 

3. Even within first-timers, there are varying degrees of urgency in housing needs

While most agreed that first-timers who are looking to purchase their first homes should be prioritised, Singaporeans also acknowledged that there are varying degrees of urgency in their housing needs, said Mr Lee.

“For instance, most agreed that first-timer couples who already have children but are without their own homes should be prioritised ahead of those who are existing homeowners,” he added.

This sentiment was echoed by participants during the breakout discussions. 

One participant suggested identifying the number of children the applicant has before further assessing their income bracket. “Those with more children and less income should be given priority,” the participant added.

Mr Lee shared that the Government is studying how to further prioritise access to public housing for those with more urgent housing needs, even within the first-timer group.

However, he admitted that “it is not easy” to reach a consensus on how we define whose needs are more urgent. 

“And that is why we are here today, to redefine what we deem to be important and to try to reach common ground for the betterment of society as a whole.”

4. Doing away with the resale market will have its consequences

Some Singaporeans have suggested for the Government to do away with the resale market.  This would mean that flat owners would have to return their houses to HDB and ballot for a replacement flat should they wish to move homes.

Mr Lee then shared that there are others who worry that this will result in “unnecessary bureaucracy and impede mobility”.

“…families will have to ballot for a flat everytime they wish to move, and lose their autonomy to decide how much they want to sell their flats for,” he said. 

He also highlighted that there is no consensus on the price that HDB should buy the flats back at. 

“Some preferred for the buyback price to include a growth rate pegged to inflation or to GDP growth. Yet others felt that it would not be fair to peg the price to market movements as the Government would be, in effect, providing a risk-free asset.”

He added that some have also suggested providing more grants to resale buyers, especially the lower income group, to improve affordability but with tighter conditions. 

Mr Lee acknowledged that the suggestions are “all useful proposals” and that the Government is studying them “very carefully”.

“So, we look forward to hearing your views and ideas on how we can continue to ensure public housing remains affordable, and to provide targeted assistance to those who most urgently need it,” he said.

For more content about Forward SG and how youths can participate, click here.

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