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Most Singaporeans want more subsidies, stricter criteria for BTO flats in prime areas: Desmond Lee

SINGAPORE – The majority of Singaporeans who shared their views on public housing in prime locations support the giving of additional subsidies to keep these flats affordable and the imposing of strict criteria for first-time buyers and subsequent resale buyers.

More than 6,500 Singaporeans gave their feedback through a national online survey, dialogues, focus group discussions and e-mail since last November, when plans to build new flats in prime areas were announced.

There was great diversity in opinions on how to keep these upcoming Housing Board flats inclusive, said National Development Minister Desmond Lee on Sunday (July 4).

He said this in a virtual public engagement session conducted by the Government feedback unit Reach to solicit input on how new flats in prime areas such as the city centre and Greater Southern Waterfront can be kept affordable, inclusive and accessible for Singaporeans.

“Through the broad engagements that we’ve had, the majority are supportive of providing additional subsidies, on top of typical subsidies today to ensure that Singaporeans can better afford these types of housing,” said Mr Lee.

“But they were very clear that we have to ensure equity and fairness and find some ways to recover these additional subsidies in some way.”

On Sunday, Mr Lee raised various issues the Government has to address when formulating a housing model for future public housing.

“What is the entry point for ‘affordable’? Are we catering to middle-income professionals? Retirees who want to right-size? Working Singaporeans who need to live near those areas because they work there as security, cleaners and F&B?”

There is also the issue of the income ceiling for Build-To-Order (BTO) flats and whether it is sufficient as an eligibility criterion to buy these prime flats, added Mr Lee.

The current income ceiling for families to buy a HDB flat is $14,000, and $7,000 for singles.

Even the way the HDB allocate new flats – currently done by ballot – is also worth looking at, he said.

“Do we allow ballots? In our ballots, first-timers are given more chances and those who have family living nearer get higher priority… Do we continue to allow these? Does it entrench privilege and exacerbate inequality?”

The most difficult challenge in formulating the new model is to ensure that flats remain affordable in the long term, in subsequent resales, Mr Lee added.

He noted that the model is more than just housing policy, but is also a major social policy with implications that will affect future generations.

“It’s not just about the home or the possible investment upside, but it’s about the kind of society and neighbourhoods we want to have, the kinds of core areas we want to see, neighbours we want to have and the identify we keep in Singapore,” said Mr Lee.

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Some suggestions that were discussed in Sunday’s session include a longer minimum occupation period than the existing five years and a tiered system for the Government to recover the additional subsidies when the flats are sold.

Another suggestion is to introduce eligibility criteria for resale buyers to ensure these flats remain accessible to a wide spectrum of Singaporeans, even on the resale market, and to encourage owner-occupation instead of for profit through rental or resale.

Singapore will heed lessons from more mature successful cities when working on the housing model, he added.

“We’re up against personal motivation, up against very powerful social forces and strong economic forces,” said Mr Lee.

“And while it is not easy, it is incumbent on us to see that these prime locations continue to reflect the openness and diverseness of our society.”

Plans to build new public housing in prime locations were first mentioned last November.

The following month, Mr Lee said the Government would work on a housing model for these flats to keep them affordable, inclusive and accessible to Singaporeans from all walks of life.

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A variety of flat types, such as two-room flexi units and rental housing will be included where possible, he said.

On Sunday, Mr Lee reiterated that the model will not be retroactively applied to existing flat owners, but will apply only to future public housing in prime locations.

The Ministry of National Development said it is studying the possible measures for the upcoming model.

Said Mr Lee: “We will work towards a balance that can achieve the widest public good. We may not be able to address and come up with the perfect scheme. Certainly our public housing scheme is not perfect – there are rough edges and areas to improve on but we have a good base to build on.”

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