An intense week in Parliament is coming up as motions on housing will be debated in the House.
The PAP Government has filed a Parliamentary motion to affirm its commitment on affordable and accessible public housing—a response to similar motions filed by Non-Constituency Members of Parliament Mr Leong Mun Wai and Ms Hazel Poa last year.
The motions by the Progress Singapore Party (PSP) NCMPs, however, imply that the PAP Government has not delivered on its commitment on housing—which is fundamentally incorrect.
“Implicit in the PSP’s motion is the claim that the Government has not done enough,” said Senior Minister of State for National Development Sim Ann.
“We disagree with this claim.”
As Singaporeans with a stake in its future, we have to scrutinise and question PSP’s claims about the provision of public housing in Singapore.
HDB flats have been kept affordable, accessible, and inclusive
Yes, the price of BTO flats has been increasing (as with most goods) but the increase in flat prices has been smaller than the increase in household income over the past 10 years.
The PAP government is able to keep prices of BTO flats relatively stable by pricing them below market value and providing generous subsidies to those who need them, even at the cost of incurring yearly deficits.
Speaking of subsidies, the PAP Government provides a wide range of housing grants (of up to S$80,000 for first-timers buying new flats and S$160,000 for first-timers buying resale flats) so that Singaporeans don’t have to fork out too much money to buy HDB flats.
In 2019, the PAP Government also raised the monthly household income ceiling so that more Singaporean households — especially those from lower to upper-middle income households — could qualify for HDB housing grants and purchase their first homes.
It isn’t just Singaporean families who have access to affordable public housing.
Seniors have priority access to 2-room Flexi flats (and even get to choose the length of their lease based on their needs, age, and preference).
Singles can apply for grants of up to S$40,000 (when buying new HDB flats) and S$80,000 (when buying resale flats).
Low income and vulnerable families have access to the Public Rental Scheme that allows them to rent 1 to 2-room flats for a low monthly amount.
All these measures were implemented so that public housing in Singapore remained affordable, accessible, and inclusive.
HDB flats are safeguarded for those who need it
Public housing is for the people. Policies like the Minimum Occupation Period (MOP) help to ensure that Singapore’s HDB flats go to households with genuine housing needs.
“HDB flats are primarily meant for own occupation. Owners are required to physically occupy their flat during the MOP before they’re allowed to sell their flat on the open market, or rent out the whole flat,” said National Development Minister Desmond Lee earlier this year in Parliament.
HDB expends considerable effort in investigating potential infringement of the MOP rule through random inspections, feedback from members of the public and property agents, and data analytics.
Flat buyers who run afoul of the MOP requirement face consequences ranging from a warning to having to return the flat to HDB. In the last five years, 21 new owners had to return their flats to HDB because they breached the MOP rule — and they have been debarred from purchasing or owning subsidised flats in the future.
Even the property agents who help errant home-owners sell or rent their unoccupied flats will face disciplinary action, meted out by the Council for Estate Agencies.
Some might see this as too severe a consequence, but on the flip side, it shows how serious this Government takes the owner-occupation intent of public housing, safeguarding it for those with genuine housing needs.
HDB flats can be used to supplement income during retirement
Aside from our CPF scheme which ensures that Singaporeans can build up a nest egg for their retirement, the PAP Government has housing schemes in place to help seniors monetise their flats to supplement their retirement income.
Seniors can choose to sell a portion of their HDB flat’s lease back to HDB in exchange for a cash bonus and monthly payouts for life.
They can also downgrade to a smaller flat and receive a Silver Housing Bonus of up to S$30,000.
This allows our seniors to live within their means and attain additional income streams so that they can retire comfortably.
Has the PAP Government been keeping its commitment on affordable and accessible public housing?
The result speaks for itself. As of 2021, 78.3 per cent of resident households live in HDB flats, and this figure has been consistently high over the years.
And close to 90 per cent of these households own their flats.
Over the last two years, the Covid-19 pandemic disrupted global supply chains, resulting in delays for BTO projects, and causing prices on the resale market to rise. Perhaps this is why Singaporeans felt that HDB flats were becoming unaffordable.
However, this Government’s commitment to providing a roof over Singaporeans’ heads has never wavered.
Last year, Minister Lee announced that the HDB would increase the supply of BTO flats, launching up to 23,000 flats per year in 2022 and 2023. This is an increase from 17,000 new flats in 2021. The PAP Government is also prepared to launch up to 100,000 flats in total from 2021 to 2025, if necessary.
Throughout the pandemic, the PAP Government also stepped in to minimise HDB construction delays. It helped contractors to hire workers, shared the cost of raw steel and concrete, and stockpiled construction materials.
As Minister Lee said in October last year, ensuring affordable and accessible public housing is a key national priority:
“We are committed to keeping public housing affordable and accessible, to meet the housing aspirations of Singaporeans, and to help Singaporeans own their home. This is a key national priority, and provides the basic foundation for us to raise our families, bring up our children, and build strong communities.”