Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Over 500 rental tenants bought their first flats last year

By Janice Heng and Yeo Sam Jo, The Sunday Times, 7 Feb 2016

More than 500 public rental tenants bought their first homes last year, according to fresh figures from the Housing Board.

Although this is fewer than the 750 in 2014, the latest number does not include tenants who applied for a new flat during November's bumper launch featuring 12,411 flats, about half of last year's supply. Figures are not yet available.

Since 2011, more than 3,000 tenants have bought their first homes in Build-to-Order or Sale of Balance Flats exercises. This is up from about 2,500 a year ago. There is "a steady stream of about 600 households per year", said the HDB.

Under the public rental scheme, eligible needy families with a household income of up to $1,500 can rent flats at highly subsidised rates.

Rents start at $26 for a one-room flat and $44 for a two-room flat. Each tenancy is for two years, after which the HDB assesses renewal.

"Tenants who are financially stable will be encouraged to consider buying a flat," said the HDB.

Grants to help families buy their first flat have also risen. From the November 2015 launch onwards, eligible first-timers can get up to $80,000 in housing grants. This comprises an Additional CPF Housing Grant of up to $40,000, and the Special CPF Housing Grant (SHG) of up to $40,000. The maximum SHG amount was $20,000 before.

Of the tenants who have bought their first flat since 2011, 84 per cent did so with the help of either or both grants. And 12 per cent got the maximum grant amount, which was $60,000 at the time. Some tenants may not have qualified for the grants due to eligibility criteria such as needing to be employed continuously for 12 months before application.

First-timer public rental tenants also get priority to buy new flats, with 10 per cent of two-room flexi and three-room supply set aside under the Tenants' Priority Scheme.

Since 2011, about 19 per cent of tenants who bought a flat did so under this priority scheme.

Overall, 73 per cent bought a three-room or smaller flat, "with the majority buying a three-room flat", said the HDB.

But tenants who have owned a public flat before will get more help with the upcoming Fresh Start Housing Scheme, to help second-timer families with young children own a flat again. The Government is studying offering eligible families a new housing grant to buy a two-room flexi flat with a shorter lease, but with stricter resale conditions.

Grants help family obtain their own flat
By Yeo Sam Jo, The Sunday Times, 7 Feb 2016

When office administrator Soh Jie Ling divorced her husband nine years ago, she had to move out of her in-laws' Sengkang flat.

She lived with her parents and younger brother for three years, but when they downsized their home, the single mother had to find a new place with her two sons.

She ended up moving into a two-room rental flat in Marine Terrace, sharing a double-decker bed with her children, who were then aged four and six.

Rent was $62 a month, but it later became a struggle when she was diagnosed with Wilson's disease, a genetic disorder in which copper builds up in one's tissues.

Her condition led to liver disease, which meant she could not work full-time at that point and could earn only $800 a month.

"I felt very inferior at the time - I wanted to get my own flat but I could not," said Ms Soh in Mandarin. "I've always believed you can have not enough to eat, but you cannot not have a roof over your head."

Her wish to buy her own flat was finally fulfilled in 2012, when she applied for a three-room Build-To-Order unit in Sengkang with the help of government grants. The home would have cost $190,000, but she received $60,000 in Central Provident Fund housing grants.

She also got $50,000 in housing grants through the Home Ownership Plus Education Scheme, which provides financial aid to low-income families with no more than two children. She and her sons moved into their new Rivervale Crescent home last November.

"It was a huge accomplishment to finally have a permanent home," said Ms Soh, who now takes home $1,700 each month.

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