Housing for All (Almost)

HBD and MND have continued to make reassuring pledges that there would be housing for all, it is just a matter of time. The pledge that singles above 35 and earning less than $5,000 a month can buy BTO 2BR is a long awaited one for singles. The rationale is that HDB is for Singaporeans and they should not be deprived of a privilege of owning a BTO HDB flat and then unlocking its value further down the line after 5 years, assuming the MOP would not be changed soon.

However, if Singapore is into a pro-local population growth and not depend on incoming foreign talents and workers to boost the population to 6.9 million in 2030, should singles be given any privileges at all in BTO housing? There is no right answer to this but when married couples are waiting impatiently to buy BTO, priority in building the type of flats should be geared towards newly married couples out to get their first nest. Singles have a right to a HDB BTO, but as they are not contributing to TFR, they can wait. HDB should get its head right on this, and the general population must understand it. HDB is for families, better if multi-generational, unless its kampong-to-flat 60-70s ethos is to be discarded.

Dropping the price of BTO in new estates is another pledge after that claim of BTO delinked from resale HDB prices.  It remains to be seen if the price of new flats would drop from 5.5 years to 4 years of mean annual income of flat applicants. If HDB goes back to its origins of spartan homes, this drop in price is natural. HDB is for basic housing, a roof over a family’s heads, so re-steering HDB back into its humble solid public good roots is laudable despite critics surely complaining that it is regressive. There is a tradeoff. If the middle income want stylish homes and chances of better capital appreciation, they can opt for condominiums, executive or private.

If HDB is meant as a home and not an investment income, then the government and its HDB should have the political will to stop the policy of HDB being rented out for income. Setting quotas on number of foreigners renting HDB flats in an estate is not enough. Furthermore, the HDB should rescind its ruling that owners of HDB can own private property.  No Golden Goose for HDB owners – again this falls in line with the ethos of bringing HDB back to its beginnings. Basic, solid and not-for-profit. Not-for-profit applies both to HDB selling it at “market-cost” rather than “building cost plus” and HDB owners renting it out.

These are among some of the reviews that HDB pledged it would do. All have tradeoffs and a mature adult would weigh them out that some would benefit him, others might not, depending if he is a buyer, seller, investor etc. If HDB can sort out most of the public housing concerns of young Singaporeans i.e. get it “fast”, get it “cheap”, get it with transport and amenities nearby, the government is going to score in the next GE. If.


4 responses

  1. Pingback: Daily SG: 12 Mar 2013 | The Singapore Daily

  2. Zen

    It is completely baffling why the govt intends to have BTO flats when it says 700,000 HDB flats are needed. Obviously there is a large customer base. Doesn’t it make more sense to simply go out and build flats since the demand is there, rather than take orders to make sure there is demand?

    March 13, 2013 at 4:26 am

    • I agree this is baffling. HDB policy over all is very muddled up. After the Asian financial crisis caused an overhang of unsold stock, the government came out with the idea that having homes built but unsold is just as undesirable as having homes unbuilt and people waiting, but this is something I never could understand. If the job is to put a roof over people’s head, then having a shortfall and people waiting years is frankly a failure.

      April 4, 2013 at 11:07 pm

  3. I feel strongly that housing policy shouldn’t be a means for the government to engage in social engineering. Anyone who wants to buy a place and can afford it should be able to buy. This idea that you can’t get a house yet because you’re not contributing to TFR is morally revolting. Not to mention un-hinged from reality in the sense that there is of course no obligation for a “family unit” to begin breeding upon collecting the keys.

    HDB was originally intended to provide affordable living to the masses when good quality housing was simply not available. Clearly the circumstances of today are very different, HDB’s original goal has been achieved many times over. But today, HDB has gone out of control. We are supposed to be the richest country in the world by GDP per person, but still 80% of Singaporeans live in “subsidised” housing. It doesn’t make any sense whatsoever. Especially since the subsidy is completely ephemeral. The government, controlling supply and demand through regulation, legislation and land sales effectively sets the prices in the first place, through a totally non-transparent process that is hard to distinguish from making it up. So the subsidy involves making up another – smaller – number, for comparision with the larger number ministers first thought of. This is not a useful function for the government to engage in. Not least since the outcomes are so poor. People have to wait years to get their own place and it has been reported that this places tremendous strains on relationships – hardly beneficial to our TFR – and somewhat reminicient of communist eastern Europe. Many suffer needlesssly from the ill-thoughtout and arbitrary barriers that the government uses to exclude certain groups from the market. What happens to a single person, earning $4,950 but is “lucky” enough to get a below inflation pay raise of $100 dollars when they turn 35? Do they lose their eligibility for a home? Is this anyone’s idea of good policy making? Is it even remotely fair?

    Bearing in mind that “single” in this argument can easily be seen as substitutable for “ugly” or even “gay” and the unfair and frankly discriminatory nature of this government policy is very obvious. That we need our government to do this for us in the name of “subsidy” in the richest country in the world is massively dubious.

    April 4, 2013 at 11:35 pm

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