Keeping access to public housing fair and equitable 

Since the Stone Age, early humans have sought shelter in caves, adorning their natural abode with rudimentary paintings. The instinct to have a home is such a primitive human desire that one could chart the fortunes of any government by its ability to provide adequate housing.  

Recognising this, the PAP Government has made good on its promise to build decent and affordable homes for Singaporeans for decades. Unfortunately, the disillusionment tends to set in when one tries to convince others that a HDB flat in Woodlands is no different from one in Queenstown. The reality is that even in densely built Singapore, location matters far more than it should in a changing housing landscape. Factor in the potential for capital gains, and we have a perfect storm creating the perception that public housing has become out-of-reach for the ordinary masses.  

As a result, housing policies today are a tricky manoeuvre – a blend of social engineering woven into demand and supply economics to promote social mixing and meet the evolving aspirations of Singaporeans.   

Of particular concern is the sale of flats close to the city centre, where high demand has driven prices previously unheard of in HDB properties and generated unnecessary fear of unaffordability. With that said, apart from the sellers who rejoice in their windfall gains, a bigger question about fairness arises. Why is it that some of us get to profit from subsidised public housing? How do middle-income earners, without the bank of Mum and Dad, ever compete against those with deeper pockets to snare themselves a prime location flat? 

So far, the response from the Opposition is to call upon the Government to start selling flats without consideration for land cost. On the surface, it promises Singaporeans a shot at a cheap property. But like one of those too-good-to-be-true deals packaged with numerous caveats in fine print, there are scant details on what is on offer and the real price one actually pays. Moreover, even though cheap flats are enticing, they will only push up demand even further without any changes in supply, causing resale flats to become dearer.  

The PAP Government has since unveiled a series of new measures during the National Day Rally to address all these and more. Doing away with ‘mature’ and ‘non-mature’ estates, HDB flats will be reclassified into Standard, Plus and Prime models based on their locality, with more subsidies provided to help Singaporeans secure flats in central locations. Additionally, tighter restrictions are attached to Prime flats, including a clause prohibiting owners from renting out the entire unit, a subsidy recovery during resale and an income ceiling to even out the playing field for resale buyers.   

Admittedly, none of these changes are quick fixes. However, they are meaningful tweaks that would ensure that HDB flats in central locales do not become enclaves reserved for the wealthy. More importantly, it sends the message and reinforces the belief that access to public housing must remain fair and equitable.   

After all, receiving the keys to an HDB flat remains a rite of passage and a celebrated tradition, and it is one that the PAP intends to keep alive for future generations of Singaporeans. 

Photo Source: Lee Hsien Loong via Facebook