Saturday, 9 March 2013

National Development Minister Khaw announces several new housing measures in Parliament on 8 Mar 2013

By Hetty Musfirah, Channel NewsAsia, 8 Mar 2013

A scheme that gives priority allocation for new HDB flats to first-timer married couples with a citizen child below the age of 16, will be extended to pregnant mothers from May this year.

The Parenthood Priority Scheme (PPS) will also be extended to couples who are married but without children, sometime next year.

National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan, who announced the new housing measures in Parliament on Friday, said supply will also be ramped up with 25,000 new flats to be launched this year - 2,000 more than previously announced.

Separately, the scheme to provide temporary housing for first-timer married couples with children below 16 years old, while they wait for the completion of their new HDB flats, will be extended to include married HDB first-timers without children.

Mr Khaw said the Parenthood Provisional Housing Scheme (PPHS) has so far attracted some 200 applications.

Another change is to allow singles to buy new HDB flats.

Those aged 35 and above who are buying flats for the first time will be able to buy 2-room BTO flats.

Mr Khaw said these will be for singles earning up to $5,000 as they face more financial difficulty owning a home.

He said the Ministry is still finalising details but aims to let the first batch of eligible singles apply in the July Build-to-Order launch.

Mr Khaw said: "These new flats will be built in non-mature estates in order to keep the prices down. They will come in two sizes - 35 square metres and 45 square metres. And we leave it to them to choose according to their needs and budget.

"A couple of other important details are still being finalised. For example, how much should we subsidise the flats, as compared to married couples? What should the relative priority be between singles and married couples applying for these flats?

"We will settle these outstanding issues as quickly as we can, so that the first batch of eligible singles can apply in the July BTO launch."

Currently, singles aged 35 and above, can only buy HDB flats from the resale market.

Mr Khaw said about 4,000 do so each year.

He said rising resale prices have made it more difficult for singles to buy a flat.

The needs of those who are buying a flat for a second time will also be addressed.

The second-timer quota for 2- and 3-room flats in non-mature estates will be doubled to 30 per cent.

Mr Khaw said the move will help second-timers who need to downgrade.

Out of the 30 percent quota, five per cent will be reserved for divorcees or widowers with children below the age of 16.

Mr Khaw said this will almost guarantee their ability to select a 2-room flat, and significantly increase the chances of those who apply for a 3-room flat.

The changes will be implemented from the May BTO launch.

The debarment period for divorcees to apply for a subsidised flat will also be shortened from five to three years.

Mr Khaw said this will help divorcees move on with their lives, especially those with children.

A new Studio Apartment Priority Scheme will be introduced for seniors from the May BTO exercise.

50 percent of the supply of studio apartments will be reserved for seniors who apply for one, near their current home or near where their married children live.

The new scheme will replace the current Ageing-in-Place Priority and the Married Child Priority Scheme which award priority through giving the seniors more ballot chances.

Mr Khaw said: "Many multi-generational families prefer to live together or close to one another. Last year, we introduced the Multi-Generation Priority Scheme to allow them to apply for the same BTO project with a view to live close by. More than 60 pairs of families have benefited from it, not that many.

"Dr Lee Bee Wah (MP for Nee Soon GRC) suggested that we go further to build some multi-generational flats, say with four bedrooms, to help such families live in the same flat. She advanced strong arguments on how such families could better support, especially the newlyweds, both financially as well as transmitting important cultural values.

"I believe there is some demand but we do not know how big it is. Anyway, I have asked HDB to consider doing so in some BTO developments, to test out their demand."

Mr Khaw also agreed with MP for West Coast GRC Foo Mee Har that many senior citizens have significant assets in their houses.

He said: "This is a good thing, as it opens up opportunities for them to get some retirement income, for example, by subletting their flats or rooms. This year, we have increased their options by implementing the new Silver Housing Bonus (SHB) scheme to facilitate right-sizing, and the Enhanced Lease Buyback Scheme (LBS) to support ageing-in-place.

"But many may still not be aware of the schemes or they may not have accurate information. We will step up public outreach and financial counselling to those who may benefit from these options."

Separately, the Ministry is also planning to introduce a cap on the number of foreigner tenants in HDB blocks.

MP for West Coast GRC Foo Mee Har had suggested a 10 per cent cap for each block, to prevent the growth of foreigner enclaves.

Mr Khaw agreed that there should be a cap, but said some analysis will need to be done to see if 10 per cent is appropriate.

And while implementation details are being sorted out, the HDB will reduce the maximum approved period for subletting of HDB flats and room to non-Malaysian and non-citizen subtenants, from three to 1.5 years.

Mr Khaw said the changes will not apply to Malaysian tenants as they face fewer integration challenges.

He said the public housing system needs to evolve with the times and a relook is necessary in the light of significant demographic and economic changes.

He said more will be done to reduce BTO flat prices relative to incomes, and to reduce the financial burden of housing on the young.

Mr Khaw said: "We have stopped BTO prices from rising by delinking them from resale prices. We can now pause and see what else we can do to bring BTO prices in non-mature estates to, say, around four years of salary as it was before the current property cycle started.

"We will do so partly through cooling measures to nudge the property market down; partly by seeing if an alternative housing option can be designed.

"One thing is clear. We are committed to restoring and maintaining the affordability of new HDB flats to the vast majority of first-timer Singaporean households. Their Singapore Dream of owning their own flats, like their parents', is safe. We will make sure of that."

There also has to be more options to help elderly Singaporeans unlock and monetise their HDB flats.

In the months ahead, the Ministry will initiate public discussions on housing policies to take in diverse views and to shape future housing policies.

Singles can soon buy flats from HDB
They must be 35, earn no more than $5k and can buy only 2-room units

By Daryl Chin, The Straits Times, 9 Mar 2013

SINGLES will be allowed to buy flats directly from the Housing Board for the first time, in a change of policy that looks set to bring down the prices of resale flats.

But they will be restricted to buying only two-room flats and their income should not exceed $5,000 a month.

They also cannot be younger than 35. This is the existing age limit for singles, who can buy HDB flats of up to five rooms but only in the resale market.

The policy change was announced yesterday by National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan, who said he hoped to offer the new flats as early as July.

Explaining the move, he said the Government was able to meet the needs of singles as the extra supply of flats this year would "decisively clear" the backlog of applications from married couples seeking a Housing Board home for the first time.

The supply has been revised from 23,000 to 25,000 units.

"While families will continue to be our top priority, singles have housing needs too," he said, in a nod to a promise made by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong during last year's National Day Rally.

Mr Lee acknowledged that singles face limited housing options owing to the rising prices of resale flats.

Every year, about 4,000 singles buy homes in the resale market, said Mr Khaw.

Now they can look to new flats, which would come in two sizes - 375 sq ft and 485 sq ft - and be built in less developed towns like Sengkang.

Property analysts estimate these may cost up to $100,000 without grants - the price of new two-room flats in Punggol last year.

Currently, a three-room resale flat in Sengkang costs around $415,000.

Yesterday, Mr Khaw also explained the income limit, saying those earning below $5,000 a month would face difficulties in buying a home.

But the ministry is still working out details like the amount of subsidy they would get compared to married couples and their priority in the queue, he added.

Currently, singles get a cash grant of $15,000 from the Housing Board if they earn $5,000 or less. The amount swells to $20,000, if they apply with their parents.

The change was cheered by singles like freelance graphic designer Ben Loy. The 37-year-old has been hunting for a resale flat but even the smaller units in outlying areas are priced out of his reach because of the rising cash-over- valuation premiums. "Finally, I'll be able to own a home I can buy on my own."

Part-time lecturer Heng Chin Chuan, 35, sees it as "a good move because singles contribute to the economy, too".

ERA Realty's Mr Eugene Lim said the change would put a downward pressure on resale flat prices, as singles make up 15 per cent of such transactions.

"Singles who buy from the Housing Board would pay subsidised prices, and also skip the pricey cash premiums."

More couples to get help with new homes

By Daryl Chin, The Straits Times, 9 Mar 2013

MARRIED couples applying for public housing for the first time will get more help, whether they have yet to have children or are expecting their first.

This will be done by expanding two existing schemes to include more beneficiaries, said National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan yesterday.

The first will allow married couples without children to come under the Parenthood Provisional Housing Scheme (PPHS), which provides rental flats at up to 40 per cent below market rate.

Announced in January, the scheme was formulated to provide housing options for those who are waiting for their flats to be completed.

The Housing Board offered 1,150 three- and five-room unfurnished flats in attractive areas such as Ang Mo Kio, Bedok, Jurong West and Queenstown.

They were primarily flats emptied earlier for redevelopment purposes, and cost between $800 and $1,900 per month to rent.

Mr Khaw noted that the scheme has so far attracted 200 applications, and could be extended as there are still vacancies.

"All married couples with or without children will be eligible for such interim rental flats. But if demand exceeds supply, priority must still be given to those with children," he said.

More details will be released next month, said the HDB.

The other change is the extension of the Parenthood Priority Scheme (PPS) to couples who are expecting their first child.

Previously, only married couples with children could benefit from the scheme, with 30 per cent of units in any launch of new Build-to-Order flats reserved for them.

This is also applicable for flats that are either close to completion or already built, and half the supply would be set aside.

The scheme, which first kicked in for the flat launch in January, has been well received, with about 600 applicants, and most would get a chance to choose a flat, said Mr Khaw.

Responding to queries from Workers' Party Non-Constituency MP Gerald Giam on expanding the scheme to include married couples without children, Mr Khaw said he hoped to do so next year after the backlog has been cleared.

This, said SLP International's head of research Nicholas Mak, made sense.

"Those with children have the most urgent needs, followed by expectant mothers, who would have children even before the flats were built," he said.

First-timer 25-year-old accountant Charlotte Ong, who is trying for a child, welcomed the news.

"The best-case scenario to me is to have my child first, and a home to house him shortly after," she said.

More flats set aside for divorcees, downgraders
Quota of smaller flats in non-mature estates doubled for second-timers

By Janice Heng, The Straits Times, 9 Mar 2013

TWO groups are going to find it easier to get a new Build-to-Order flat from May: those who are downgrading and divorcees applying a second time to buy a flat from the HDB.

This follows a doubling in the quota of two-room and three-room flats in non-mature estates for the second-timers, from 15 per cent to 30 per cent.

In announcing the move yesterday, Minister for National Development Khaw Boon Wan said: "This will help second-timers needing to downgrade."

Of the quota, 5 percentage points will be reserved for divorcees or the widowed who have children younger than 16.

This will "almost guarantee" that they will be able to choose a two-room flat and "significantly increase" the chances of those who apply for a three-room flat, said Mr Khaw.

From this month, divorcees will also be allowed to get a flat more quickly.

They can apply for or own two separate subsidised flats three years after their divorce instead of having to wait five years.

The time bar does not apply if they are buying a new flat with a new spouse or their parents.

"This will help them move on with their lives, especially those with children," said the minister.

The move, he said, is in line with a suggestion from Mr Edwin Tong (Moulmein-Kallang GRC).

Mr Tong had earlier asked if the ministry could look at giving priority to divorced parents with custody of the children, either in the purchase or rental of flats, as "this is a very vulnerable group of persons".

The ministry yesterday announced another tweak to make it easier for divorcees.

From now, if one of them wants to buy a subsidised flat during the debarment period, he or she does not need to get the ex-spouse's permission as long as the buyer has legal custody of all the children, who must be younger than 18 at the time of the divorce.

Previously, the requirement was that the children must be younger than 16.

The changes come against a backdrop of a growing number of applications from second-timers that the Government has been trying to tackle.

Mr Khaw said the second-timer numbers doubled in the last two years to 30,000 in 2012.

As a result, the Government tripled the quota of BTO flats for them in non-mature estates last March to the current 15 per cent.

The move reduced the application rates "significantly" to about 10 applicants per unit, he added.


Greater priority for those who want to age in place

By Janice Heng, The Straits Times, 9 Mar 2013

OLDER Singaporeans who want to age in place, or live near their children, will get more priority under a new scheme for studio apartments.

From May's Build-to-Order (BTO) exercise onwards, half the supply will be reserved for seniors applying for a studio apartment near their current flat, or near where their children live.

This will help elderly Singaporeans "right-size", said Minister for National Development Khaw Boon Wan yesterday.

The new Studio Apartment Priority Scheme replaces the Ageing-in-Place Priority Scheme and the Married Child Priority Scheme, which give more ballot chances to seniors applying for studio apartments near their current flat, or near their child's home, respectively.

Multi-generational families who prefer to remain together may also get more options.

Earlier, Ms Lee Bee Wah (Nee Soon GRC) had suggested the building of multi-generational flats to help married couples live with their parents.

"I believe there is some demand but we do not know how big it is," replied Mr Khaw.

He has asked the Housing Board to consider having such flats in some BTO develop-ments, "to test out their demand".

The Government also wants to make seniors more aware of how to tap the value of their homes.

Mr Khaw noted that there are schemes such as the Silver Housing Bonus, which gives cash to the elderly who downsize their flats, and the Lease Buyback Scheme where they can sell the remainder of their lease back to the HDB.

"But many may still not be aware of the schemes or they may not have accurate information," he said.

"We will step up public outreach and financial counselling to those who may benefit from these options."


Cap on foreign tenants in HDB blocks

By Esther Teo, The Straits Times, 9 Mar 2013

THE Government will move to cap the number of foreign tenants in each Housing Board block to prevent the growth of foreigner enclaves.

National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan said in Parliament yesterday that while the implementation details are being sorted out, the Housing Board will cap approvals for all new HDB tenancy agreements involving non- citizens, and those up for renewal.

The tenancy will be capped at 11/2 years with immediate effect, down from three years previously.

These changes, however, will not apply to Malaysian tenants, as they face fewer integration challenges, Mr Khaw said.

He was responding to Ms Foo Mee Har (West Coast GRC), who proposed a cap of 10 per cent on the number of flats in any HDB block that can be rented out to foreign workers.

In reply, Mr Khaw said: "Let us do some analysis to see if 10 per cent is the appropriate cap... I think it is on the low side, but in principle I agree that we should impose one."

Ms Foo added that despite the strong efforts of the Ethnic Integration Policy - which aims to prevent the formation of racial enclaves by ensuring a balanced ethnic mix in public estates - there is no equivalent policy to guide the management of foreign workers who rent HDB flats.

"We run the risk of allowing foreign worker enclaves of significant numbers and size to form in HDB estates.

"Large groups of up to nine workers tend to share one flat. There have been complaints from residents about encountering poor habits, such as excessive noise, smoke and littering, among other issues," she added.

Ms Foo also asked the Government to consider purpose-built apartments or dormitories with dedicated facilities and amenities to house these foreign workers.

These workers are here on a temporary basis, to do a job, and will leave after their contracts are over, she noted.

"They come from very different backgrounds and cultures, and are not expected to integrate. We should question if they should be housed in our HDB flats in the first place," noted Ms Foo.

Dr Chia Shi Lu (Tanjong Pagar GRC) said some residents in his estate had also expressed concerns over foreign tenants and the possibility that they might congregate together.

"While the problem is not widespread, there are certain blocks in Queenstown where up to seven people could be living in the same flat," he added.

"This tends to happen in older estates like ours, where residents can sublet their homes.

"I support the cap, maybe it could be limited at 15 per cent."

'Time to relook housing policies for the future'
By Jeremy Au Yong, The Straits Times, 9 Mar 2013

EVEN as changes are being rolled out to meet the housing needs of Singaporeans of today, National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan is casting his eye on the desired future of public housing in the decades to come.

After announcing several policy shifts during the debate on his ministry's spending yesterday, a philosophical Mr Khaw turned to what he said were fundamental questions about housing policy in light of "significant demographic and economic changes".

Signalling a critical rethink of the role and nature of public housing, he said: "After 50 years of public housing, it is good to re-examine some old assumptions and revisit some key policies."

He raised four key questions:

Should Housing Board flats continue to be an appreciating asset or return to being treated simply as a social need?

Should the HDB build to meet sophisticated tastes or go back to basics?

How to keep flats affordable while continuing to encourage couples to be prudent?

How should public housing respond to the needs of an ageing population?

"They are not trivial questions, and forging consensus on what the answers should be may be challenging," said the minister.

On the notion of an HDB flat as an asset, Mr Khaw noted that this was not the intent of public housing when it was first started. "At that time, we were all first-time applicants of HDB flats. Having basic, no-frills, low-cost homes was top priority."

Yet, as the country changed, so did housing policy. From very strict rules, changes were gradually made to allow owners to sell their flats for a profit and later to rent them out. And the changes meant many were allowed to accumulate large nest eggs, he said.

"Looking ahead, as we may no longer get the same kind of returns from reselling an HDB flat as in the past, how will its role as an asset be affected?"

On the re-evaluation that is afoot, he intends to mull the key questions "jointly with Singaporeans". He urged them to join the Government in a serious conversation on these issues and agreed with a suggestion from Parliamentary Secretary Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim that sessions be dedicated to housing in the ongoing Our Singapore Conversation.

"Share with us your worries, your fears, your hopes and your dreams. We hope to hear many views and ideas so as to better inform our housing policies. Let us work on the challenges together and shape better housing policies for our future generations."

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