Housing for our singles, is there a perfect solution? 

In Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Universe, the answer to life, the universe and everything is 42. But for singles in Singapore, the number is likely to be 35 – an age where they could finally access public housing.  

Since the introduction of Housing Development Board (HDB) flats in the 1960s, singles have been so far down the housing food chain that they were not even allowed to purchase one until 1991. Even then, there were limits dictating where they could live and how big their flats were. But gradually, these restrictions began to ease.  

By 2004, singles could buy resale flats of all sizes in all locations. A decade later, 2-room Build-To-Order (BTO) flats in non-mature estates were introduced as a more affordable option, extending the dreams of homeownership to many more singles. More recently, as announced during the National Day Rally, singles will no longer be limited to the fringes. Instead, they can apply for 2-room BTOs island-wide. 

Unfortunately for many singles, such changes do not address their biggest bugbear – the long wait for their 35th birthday. At first glance, a logical solution would be to lower the eligibility age for singles to buy their first flat. It is also something often mooted by the Opposition. However, would that solve the thorny subject of meeting the housing aspirations of our singles? 

The problem with lowering the BTO eligibility age 

Firstly, lowering the BTO eligibility age for singles to 28 years will create more stress in the housing market. This is because applications for BTO flats are already oversubscribed. And if there is one thing the law of economics tells us, it is this – prices will rise when rising demand meets a limited supply, limited because no government can conjure up more land without incurring opportunity costs.  

Given that Singapore can only allocate a specific amount of land for residential use, building more 2-room options to address the increased demand from singles would involve a trade-off at the expense of other types of flats. For couples and families in urgent need of their own space, the potential of a longer wait looms large.  

Moving on, we have a longer-term problem. What will happen to the bonanza of 2-room flats when our singles eventually move out? Judging by the trajectory of our fertility rate, would there be a sustained demand for these studio apartments?  

Finally, the unpalatable truth about lowering the age for singles to buy a BTO is that it will only improve housing access for some. In particular, higher income singles with the means to save up for a down payment and those who manage to secure help from the bank of mom and dad. For everybody else, the wait continues even if the rules change. 

The proposal by the Opposition might sound attractive at the beginning. Yet, it raises more questions than answers.

The political reality is that, without unlimited expanses of land, a responsible government would have to prioritise needs similar to the emergency room triage. For now, that would mean limiting singles to smaller BTOs due to land constraints and controlling demand with an age requirement so that prices do not spiral out of control. It is not a perfect solution, but the calibrated approach helps to ensure that those most in need of a flat can get one.  

As society evolves, so will our housing policies. And here at the PAP, we will continue to be responsive to the housing needs and aspirations of all Singaporeans – singles, young couples, families and seniors to build a better future for all. 

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