Saturday 15 June 2013

Ideas to help seniors unlock flats' value

But some suggestions may mean heavier tax burden on younger Singaporeans
By Charissa Yong And Daryl Chin, The Straits Times, 14 Jun 2013

RADICAL ideas to help the elderly unlock the value of their homes were floated at an Our Singapore Conversation (OSC) dialogue on Wednesday night.

A dedicated government unit to address the housing concerns of the elderly, a state handout to match the capital gains from downsizing and even tourist homestays in senior citizens' flats were among the suggestions.

But some of these, said Senior Minister of State for National Development Tan Chuan-Jin, would mean a heavier burden on younger taxpayers.

Take, for instance, the idea that the Government should match the returns for senior citizens who downgrade to a smaller flat.

If the Government does this, dollar for dollar up to a maximum of $100,000, it could encourage more seniors to monetise their existing flats, said those who suggested it.

Unfortunately, the cost of such a scheme would be borne by the one-third of the Singaporeans here who pay taxes, said Mr Tan. And with Singapore's ageing population and falling birth rate, the weight on taxpayers would get even heavier.

"Once you give (such incentives) out, you can't take it back. The people who will pay for these things when they kick in, in 10, 15 to 20 years later, will be your children and grandchildren's generation," he said.

At the dialogue, some participants also wanted the HDB to bring back dual-key units, which were piloted in the 1980s. This would allow elderly heartlanders to rent out one portion of their flat without having to worry about sharing space with a potentially unsavoury tenant.

Others asked for the Government to provide a service which matched various tenants among the seniors using a shared database. They also suggested that the Government step in to mediate when tensions between the elderly and their tenants run high.

In general, seniors can monetise their flats in four ways:
- Downsize and receive a $20,000 cash bonus if their retirement account is topped up with part of the proceeds.
- Sell part of the lease back to the Housing Board if they own a three-room flat or smaller.
- Sublet their flat.
- Sell it on the resale market.
Participants at the session also argued that some HDB policies can be tweaked to help the elderly.

Retired counsellor Chan Lip Hian, 62, wants to sell part of the lease of his executive apartment in Bukit Batok, although his property does not currently qualify for the scheme. "I can always sell it on the open market, but I would rather stay in the same surroundings, which I have grown to love in the past 30 years," he said.

Praising the breadth of discussions in his closing remarks, Mr Tan noted: "We can ask for many things. But at the end of the day, how do we make it sustainable? I think the Government has a responsibility to help, but individuals also have a responsibility."

He added that the such discussions were useful in shaping policies and that "changes are already happening".

Wednesday night was the last of the six public OSC sessions on housing organised by the Ministry of National Development.

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