Closing Speech by Minister Desmond Lee for the Parliamentary Motion on Affordable and Accessible Public Housing
Feb 7, 2023
1. Mr Speaker, I would like to thank Members on both sides of this House who have shared your views on public housing. It’s an important topic for this house, it’s an important topic for Singapore, and this discussion taking place at the time that we’re in, after the COVID pandemic.
2. Sir, in many other cities, housing is largely a matter of personal responsibility. Residents look for their own housing on the open market, do their sums, borrow if they have to, and find their way – whether to buy or rent, or some other arrangement. Governments intervene – largely by enabling private developers to build and sell homes to people. They may provide public housing – but this is usually as a social safety net for the lower income.
3. In Singapore, we have taken a very unique approach, one that has been developed over the decades since independence, continually improved, to achieve two very important fundamental objectives.
a. First, public housing is social policy – we are building homes to give Singaporeans a roof over their heads, but we are also building diverse communities for Singaporeans to live, bond and experience life together. In doing so, we build a nation as one people.
b. Second, we want to give Singaporeans a stake in the nation by having a home they call their own, and sharing in the progress by unlocking the value of their homes and growing their nest egg. Today, 90% of Singaporean households own their HDB homes.
4. To achieve this, we harness a combination of national policy and Government resources on the one side, and elements of the open market on the other side, to help unlock the value of people’s homes. But in so doing, we must be very clear-eyed about long-term sustainability, as many Members who spoke during the debate have underscored.
5. Mr Speaker, in my opening speech, I explained clearly that the supply tightness and the spike in resale prices we face today is a recent phenomenon triggered by COVID-19 disruptions. We all went through this together. We are taking active, concrete steps to resolve the imbalance and address the concerns that Singaporeans have raised.
a. We are decisively ramping up the housing supply and will launch up to a total of 100,000 new flats between 2021 and 2025. Members may recall that we announced this in 2021, in the midst of fighting COVID-19.
b. We will also launch more Shorter Waiting Time flats, of around 2,000 to 3,000 flats per year by 2025, and we will recalibrate our building programme over time so that they make up a larger proportion of new flat supply. And we know that flat supply comprises of BTO flats, Shorter Waiting Time flats as part of BTO flat supply, sale of balance flats, and open selection of flats, on top of the resale market options.
c. Mr Xie Yao Quan, Ms Denise Phua, Mr Louis Chua, and Mr Leon Perera had called for building ahead of demand and building Shorter Waiting Time flats.
6. We have priced BTO flats to ensure affordability, and kept BTO prices stable in the last two years. To prevent the resale market from running ahead of economic fundamentals, we implemented two rounds of cooling measures, and are seeing some moderation in the rate of increase in resale prices.
7. We are still closely monitoring the housing market and we hope Members can be patient and watch as it develops.
KEY ISSUES AND TRADE OFFS
8. I have also committed to Singaporeans that we will not stand still but will continue to enhance the accessibility and affordability of public housing.
a. We acknowledge the concerns of First-Timer couples trying to set up their very first home, and have been studying ways to better help them get their first homes faster.
b. We understand the concerns that people have raised about higher BTO prices in Mature Estates.
c. We have sought to address some of these through the Prime Location Public Housing (PLH) Model in the more central and very attractive locations in Singapore.
d. I thank Mr Xie Yao Quan, Ms Janet Ang and Ms Denise Phua for their suggestions to expand the PLH model to other locations.
9. We will continue to review our housing models to ensure affordability and accessibility of flats in other mature estates and choice locations, while avoiding an excessive windfall gain to those who successfully book such a flat in these areas.
10. In fact, the Leader of opposition spoke about Ang Mo Kio Weave and the price he cited was the most expensive flat, five-room flat on the top floor, in a location in the heart of Ang Mo Kio Central, next to a hawker centre, next to a wet market, next to two shopping malls, next to MRT station, next to bus interchange, next to parks and other amenities. It was a conscious decision to build public housing as opposed to giving it over to private housing. Recently, there were GLS sites and launches of private housing in Ang Mo Kio, not in Ang Mo Kio Central. The prices of the private housing, I think you can compare and clear for all to see that there is a clear distinction in prices between HDB flats in Ang Mo Kio Central, this project, and the ones launched by the private sector. And in the brochure itself, members of the public as well as Members of this House can see the range of BTO prices before grants, as well as the market comparables for HDB resale prices nearby, which after adjustment, will give you a sense of the gap between what is available on the resale market and what’s available as subsidised housing in a choice, mature estate.
11. But what I have also emphasised is that this Government needs to provide affordable and accessible public housing, not just for this generation but also for future generations of Singaporeans – long term sustainability.
12. We are a small city-state, 720 sq km. We have many competing needs and our scarce land needs to be carefully stewarded.
a. We will create space to meet the needs of today’s Singaporeans and tomorrow’s generation, but this will involve rejuvenating and recycling land and building more intensively.
b. Resources are limited. Singapore has no natural resources to rely on. We have to create and build up the fiscal resources needed to support the home ownership aspirations of Singaporeans through the generations.
13. So how do we allocate limited resources for public housing among potentially unlimited housing needs, while reflecting our values as a nation?
a. We will prioritise first-timer families who need housing to build their families.
b. We will help lower income households more because we believe in housing as a social leveller.
14. Our housing policies also reflect our values of prudence and sustainability.
a. We must not subsidise housing at the expense of other equally important needs for Singapore.
b. We must not enhance housing accessibility and affordability of this generation, by robbing our future generations, whether of land or fiscal resources or the reserves which are intended to put them in better state, through thick or thin.
c. This is what a responsible Government should do.
15. Above all, we must continue to build a nation of homeowners, for this generation and the next, to continue the legacy our forefathers have started.
16. We firmly believe in homeownership, as it provides us the stability to build our families and raise our children, gives us a sense of rootedness in Singapore, and allows us to have a stake in our country’s progress.
17. Homeownership has worked for us thus far, and we need to continue with the good work to make it work for the next generation.
18. That is why we sell HDB flats on 99-year leasehold, which strikes a good balance between providing a home-for-life, asset appreciation, and enabling us to rejuvenate our city and build new homes for the next generation too.
19. Ms Hazel Poa, the Leader of the Opposition and Mr Louis Chua asked why we did not build even more and even faster? At the same time, several Members have sounded a word of caution, taking a longer-term view and looking at the lessons of the past.
20. I have just said that we are already doing that. Today, we are already overseeing almost 100 BTO projects island-wide, at different stages of construction. There are almost 80,000 HDB flats under construction as we speak.
21. We will press on. This high tempo will continue and by about 2025, we expect to have about 150 BTO projects going on at the same time. By contract value, HDB is not just the largest housing developer, but also exceeds all the other private residential housing contracts combined by more than 50%. So we are already building aggressively and at large scale.
22. We should also remember that HDB is not the only one ramping up, especially after the pandemic. Since the pandemic started to subside, the overall pace of building construction on our island has gone up very significantly. Individuals, businesses, private developers, organisations, government agencies – all pushing ahead with their important projects while doing catch-up on COVID-related delays suffered by existing projects. Fiscal resources, foreign manpower and construction capacity are not without their limits.
23. Several Members, including Ms Hazel Poa, Mr Louis Chua and the Leader of the Opposition, have suggested that the Government has under-estimated demand and under-built the supply of flats. Ms Hazel Poa suggested “Hey, you know the number of marriages, you know the immigration numbers.” The Leader of the Opposition has indicated a wider range of parameters.
24. We do in fact have models that take into account many considerations – marriages, births, deaths, income levels, economic conditions, cycles, demand for different housing types and so on – in trying to project the real demand for flats and property in general.
25. However, it is not a perfect science and it certainly cannot account for sudden shocks, and what sudden shocks can cause in terms of human psychology or market behaviour. In fact, for many years before COVID-19 hit, application rates for BTO flats were low and resale market was soft. I’ve mentioned all of this in my opening speech. I trust Members, including Members of Opposition, had listened to that. And in fact, my colleague SMS Sim Ann had emphasised those points. Then COVID-19 hit, the dynamics shifted rapidly and we are in the current situation where demand for housing shot up.
26. The housing market is highly sentiment-driven and demand can suddenly appear, or disappear. Let me give a real example.
a. At the height of the property boom in the mid-90s, there were as many as 150,000 buyers in the queue for public housing, and the wait for a flat could be as long as seven years.
b. However, when the Asian Financial Crisis struck in 1997, the queue vanished, virtually overnight, some say. HDB ended up with 31,000 unsold flats, which took more than five years to clear.
c. Because of the unintended oversupply, home buyers could walk in to buy ready flats in the early 2000s. However, home owners paid a heavy price, with flat prices or resale flat values staying depressed.
d. Some who bought flats just before the crisis ended up with negative equity and even lost their homes and hard-earned savings.
27. The many unsold flats represented a waste of taxpayers’ money. The holding cost incurred from the vacant housing stock is not inconsequential. Money that could have been well spent on other uses – healthcare, education, and other areas especially after financial crisis. And in this House, people who were sitting in this house at the time were asking lots of questions. The Auditor-General was asking lots of questions, and I can tell you, if you look at the records, the mood is quite opposite of what we are hearing today.
28. Several MPs like Ms Cheryl Chan and Mr Sitoh Yih Pin also pointed out that the danger of oversupply is real. Should there be a persistent or significant oversupply of housing, this imposes a downward pressure on the housing market, which in turn hurts the asset values of all flat owners.
29. Even the Workers’ Party is cognisant of the implications of an oversupply, as seen in their 2019 Working Paper on HDB resale prices. Even the WP calling for the kind of perfect hindsight that they are calling today, for actions of the years before indicate that vulnerability.
30. The paper mentioned, and I quote, “Assuming an average household size of 3.3, this would mean that around 9,000 or so new dwelling units are required annually. Completions within the same time period have far exceeded the resident population growth. Private vacancies have only started to inch down, but there are still around 12,000 private units completing up to 2022.”
31. And it goes on to say: “Will the HDB have a vacancy rate problem, compounded by a still steady stream of 16,000 to 17,000 BTO units in the last few years, which will continue to increase supply up to 2022?”
32. This was a report commissioned within the WP, quoting experts from the property sector. And in 2019, they cautioned HDB from persisting and building 16,000 to 17,000 BTO units, instead saying, would vacancies cause problems? Better just go down to around 9,000 or so, because they made a lot of assumptions, marshalled a lot of data and experience and this was the recommendation.
33. So in 2019, the WP was recommending that HDB should only build 9000 dwelling units or so. To put this into context, HDB launched around 16,000 flats the year before the report in 2018, 15,000 flats in 2019 and 17,000 flats in 2020. The rest is recent history. Had we tapered down our supply to WP’s level in 2019, or listened to you and your experts, I think our BTO shortage would be even greater today.
34. So I think we all accept that the best of models cannot firstly, fully account for black swan events. Secondly, you cannot be certain how market psychology would work, and there are a confluence of factors that come together to determine housing market sentiments. This shows just how difficult it is to accurately predict residential property demand or for that matter, the direction and size of movement in the property market.
35. We therefore need to be careful in calibrating flat supply to meet demand. It is important for us not to try to ascribe a wrong set of reading of the facts because before COVID-19 struck, the data in terms of application rates across the board as well as resale prices, indicated that the housing market was relatively stable until around the time of COVID-19, and things moved.
36. In fact, think about it: Asian financial crisis, demand vanished, prices plunged. COVID-19, a crisis of different sorts, but still a crisis, the exact opposite happened. Demand went up. Today with perfect hindsight, we still make conjectures as to what we think caused this change in movement. And I describe, or attempt to describe, just some of those broad strokes in my opening speech. So I think it is very important for us to recognise what we ourselves have said in 2019 as we sit here and try to pontificate about what Government had or had not done.
37. Several Members, Mr Leong and Mr Jamus Lim for instance, have also put forward proposals that effectively will result in a draw on past reserves. I think most of the points have been dealt with by Minister Indranee Rajah, but in fact Mr Jamus Lim sought to justify that paying lower land price is a way of “being present” for the current generation.
38. Mr Leong proposed the Affordable Housing Scheme, which as my colleague SMS Sim Ann and many Members of this House have explained, is not a better alternative to addressing the challenges of affordability and accessibility compared to what we have today, compared to what we intend to do, and are studying to do.
39. Minister Indranee Rajah has also explained that if the occupiers of flats under this scheme do not sell the flats, then by leaving land costs out of the equation in this proposal, it is effectively a draw on the Reserves.
40. We have also heard many suggestions on improving public housing affordability.
41. We have shared that we price new BTO flats based on affordability, not at the median level as the WP has repeatedly called or what was originally in the PSP’s manifesto of 2022, though having heard Mr Leong, I am not sure whether the manifesto still stands.
42. But we have shared that we price new BTO flats based on affordability for different income levels. Based on the market value of comparable flats, we then apply a significant discount to ensure they remain affordable to first-time buyer across different income levels. Not just at the median. On top of that, we provide additional grants for first-timer families, with more grants to those who need them the most.
43. With this approach, today HPI or Home Price to Income ratio is less than 3.0 after grants for those at the 25th percentile, or households at the bottom 25% of total household income.
44. In 2022, almost 9 in 10 first-time BTO flat buyers have MSRs of less than 25%. What it means, it’s not just a statistical fact, the families or 9 in 10 of these families use less than a quarter of their total household income to pay for their mortgage. They can finance their HDB loan completely with CPF, no cash needed. The mortgage servicing figures are even lower for those at lower income percentiles with the higher grants they receive.
45. To give an example, using the average price of $342,000 for a 4-room BTO flat in a non-mature estate in 2022, a family with a household income of $5,000 can receive $45,000 in housing grants, and affordably purchase the BTO flat at an MSR of 21%. In other words, they can service their mortgages entirely from their monthly CPF contributions, with no cash outlay.
46. This is an appropriate time in which I deal with the Leader of Opposition’s questions repeatedly about transparency and what is the extent of the subsidies given to buyers at the mature estates, at the non-mature estates. I have tried to explain, Minister Indranee Rajah has tried, and in fact, in this speech just moments earlier in my opening speech, I tried to explain and break down how we price HDB flats. And also in reply to Mr Gerald Giam PQ, I thought I explained very clearly and answer some of your questions. When we build HDB flats, we look at the market comparable for HDB because it is public housing. Then we determine the affordability indicators for different income levels, the mortgage servicing rations. We then know that we need to price it at a certain level so that they can be able to afford at the indicators that are in the report card, in what we say each time we announce on affordability. And these prices are significantly below what the resale market can bear.
47. HDB is already the most transparent on its pricing cost than any other property developer. You look at the brochures, so you asked for more information – the information is already there. I explained at length to the Member. Look at the information we put up every launch for every project, the range of BTO prices, which are subsidised, and right next to it is a column of the comparable resale prices that we use. We have to make some adjustments because depending on the level, depending on the amenities, depending on the tenure, we have to make adjustments and these adjustments are made using valuation principles.
48. Once you've done that, you can see that this difference in the brochures, in the information we put out, every launch for many, many years already, broadly reflects the extent of the market discount, which is real and which buyers can realise after MOP when they sell, because it is significantly below market. But I've also taken pains to explain to the member that you have to make adjustments.
49. We have to recognise that for each flat type, there are different floors and so we put the range, likewise the comparable also have different flat types So we put the range to be transparent. And that difference broadly reflects the extent of the market subsidy for the projects and you can see today that has become very large compared to say, 10 years ago. It's very clear.
50. And that in turn feeds the psychology. When you see the resale prices going up and BTO prices remaining almost the same, there is the sense that “Ha, this is better deal now, I’ve to go for this”, especially in good locations. But as I also explained to the Member, if you want to know the extent of the subsidies for each project, we also have to take into account the other half of the picture, because apart from significant market discounts, you will be familiar with the grants that we give - Proximity Housing Grant, CPF Housing Grant, so on and so forth. And that has got various parameters. It's not so straightforward. It depends on means testing, it depends on flat type, it depends on whether you meet the criteria for proximity housing grant to open up the grant to yourself. So that gives you a sense of the picture.
51. When the proceeds the HDB collects is less than land and construction costs, and they are every year, and that is why Mr Leong’s proposal is far more expensive to the ordinary citizen than it is under our scheme and Members who have spoken understand why it is so. the land and construction costs every year is more for our HDB projects than the proceeds we collect because of the discount we give in terms of market subsidy, as well as the grants that are means tested – based on flat type, based on proximity, based on Fresh Start, based on this and that – is significantly less than how much you spend.
52. And that is why I explained in the opening speech, if you're listening carefully, that the development cost - how much we spend and how much we collect – are two parallel tracks and they converge, and you see that there is a deficit between how much you spend and how much you collect. And that is the $3.5 billion deficit in HDB's Home Ownership Programme in the last FY – two-point-something billion before that and one-point-something billion before that. And that is for all the projects.
53. The Leader of the Opposition makes a good point about whether there is equity: are we giving people in certain projects more discounts or subsidies than others, whether there’s more discount and subsidy again depends on those factors. But the broad market discounts, across all projects, barring PLH, in the same launch, is broadly in the same parameter to ensure there’s equity, but later on when they sell, it depends on the condition of the flat.
54. Property valuers will tell you that, property agents will tell you that, your residents who buy and sell instinctively know that. So that is the extent of the difference. And PLH, because you give additional market discounts in order to make sure that the sticker price before grants is still within reach of Singaporeans, you have to give extra subsidies.
55. And that is why, for your mature estate BTO prices, they have to be higher generally. Generally in NME, because it accounts, for the difference in location, the valuations, the amenities, the distance to the city. So a number of factors, but also because you try to apply an even-handed extend of market subsidies, you can see the information on brochures. This is the third time I’ve said that. But in terms of HDB as a transparent developer, I’ve said that it is more transparent on pricing than others.
56. Construction costs if you care to know, most private developers will not tell you that right? It's all part and parcel of their financial statements. But construction costs are published on HDB's website and GeBiz, and the costs of building flats and the revenue from sale of flats can be found in HDB's financial statements. All of these are audited. All of these are subject to the Auditor-General's overall supervision.
57. This is more than what private developers typically disclose, and we understand private developers as I said in my opening speech, do things differently and probably more intuitively to most of you. Look at your cost of development, costs of marketing, recover that cost and price for profit and return. But HDB is pursuing a social objective. Deficits are a function of achieving those goals of affordability and accessibility.
58. Now, let me turn to why. Many Members, including my colleagues, have explained why as a result of what I’ve just described, the PSP’s proposal is going to be far more expensive to those who in the ordinary nature of things. Buy because they want to have a home, and then at some point in time they need to sell. Most people don't go into the housing market, either thinking this is a home for the rest of my life, or going in as a pure speculator.
59. I think it's perfectly human to say when I buy a home, it's a home. I'm going to spend money, I'm going to invest in it. It may make money, it may lose money, it may break even. I hope to live there. It's a lot of effort to move in, renovate and move in, and the social capital to invest in your neighbours and all that; children in the schools nearby.
60. But it is not wrong for some of these people to say at some point in time, my life circumstances have changed and I need to sell - not sell to make money, but sell because it’s part of life’s circumstances. And so, I think if PSP ascribes to everyone who is a reseller that you must punish them with the certain way of pricing on resale, then I don't think that's being fair to Singaporeans. It's not being fair to our own human nature, Yes, there are speculators, but I think most Singaporeans look for a home, but hope that also helps with their retirement adequacy, gives them a sense that the asset will appreciate. Yes, there will be ups and downs based on the cycle, but I think it is not incongruent to expect both, especially if this is the single largest expense or investment of your life.
61. So therefore we clearly charge below construction costs and land costs. Whereas the PSP’s proposal is, well, you live here forever. It's an expense, it’s a user fee, but the moment you resell, the land costs from I don't know how many years ago that when you first bought from us, you will accrue the interest. And if you bequeath to your children, they will pay the land costs and interest over two generations.
62. I think clearly, without even the interest accruing, the fact that you expect the buyer of a flat to pay for construction and land costs at the point of finally, need to sell and move, is just plainly more expensive and more unaffordable for Singaporeans than the existing model.
63. Many members have already explained why they think Mr Leong’s Affordable Homes Scheme will not work and will not solve the issues we're facing today or tomorrow. And Mr Leon Perera and Mr Gerald Giam, reiterated the Workers’ Party proposal to peg non-mature estate home prices as at three times the median annual household income. Now I won't go into detail on this because I think there was very robust discussion between Workers’ Party MPs and my colleague SMS Sim Ann on this issue of affordability. But whether it is HPI 5, HPI 3, if you look at the PQ data that we’ve given to you, for the HPI that Singaporeans at different income levels have, you will see that it's a 5 generally for non-mature estates, and for lower-income families, it's around 3 or less. And the charts show that.
64. And most importantly, the vast majority use CPF and pay little to no cash. Now, those are indicators of affordability. Mr Lim Biow Chuan very eloquently explained also that the fact that people are prepared to spend and invest in a property, as opposed to renting because they cannot afford, all these are indicators that give you a sense that BTOs are broadly affordable.
65. So if the Workers’ Party says they will want to make significant changes to the Motion because they think that a lot more work needs to be done for affordability, then I think they have not explained how in bringing the HPI from the current level to 3, and in fact, for some already is below 3 and to raise it to meet your HPI 3 artificially by increasing prices for the lower income to meet your dogmatic 3. I think an important question is, how will you fund it? Will you find it like Professor Jamus Lim has said, valuing housing so much like the social good, apart, like a hospital, like a school, or like roads; $1 a meter he said.
66. So while the proposal sounds attractive, it ignores the trade-off that far lower prices would attract even more flat applicants, whether they genuinely need housing or not. It also does not address the windfall games enjoyed by flat buyers, some of whom may be from the higher income levels. And quite apart from first-time BTO sale, how do you ensure the affordability of the resale market over time. That dogmatic proposal does achieve none of them. And so, we think this is one dimensional, and my colleague SMS Sim Ann had already addressed this. And keeping in mind time and my learned colleague Mr Leong will speak after this.
67. So instead, we want to offer a variety of housing options, of different sizes in different locations at different price points, to cater to varying housing needs from our flat buyers.
A BETTER FUTURE FOR ALL
68. Sir, in over 50 years, we have provided housing for a Nation, and what Ms Janet Ang rightly pointed out – a city state, very limited land, no resources, but for the industry of people and their imagination, their willpower, their drive, their willingness to sacrifice and see the big picture. We’ve done this against the odds, not us, but our forefathers set the right example.
69. They demonstrated the ethos of hard work, prudence, selflessness and sacrifice. They not only resettled and housed a generation and it was by no means an easy feat, but also built up the resources that we enjoy today. We must embrace the same values, and not pursue housing policies that benefit ourselves at the expense of future generations. But we should also embody our pioneers’ spirit of always seeking to do better and to overcome our constraints with creativity and far-sighted planning.
70. Therefore, we started a series of Housing Conversations with Singaporeans under ForwardSG since last year, to hear their aspirations and ideas, their hopes, their fears. We will study their ideas, including the suggestions we hear from Members from both sides of this House during these two days of debate, so that we fulfil that commitment to the twin goals of continually ensuring affordability, accessibility, and continuing to improve our housing system.
71. My colleague MOS Faisal has already explained how we proactively planned ahead and made provisions to help seniors monetise their flats to supplement their retirement, because one important thing that came up in this debate was whether housing gives you peace of mind, builds up a nest egg, and affords retirement adequacy. And we have also come up with new and better housing schemes, such as Community Care Apartments, to help them age in place. So I was speaking about the new housing models that cater to seniors, and we are not done yet.
72. We continue to make an extra effort to help the lower income own their own homes, so that their next generation will have a leg up in life. Another social element behind public housing.
73. To ensure that we help lower-income groups fulfil their homeownership aspirations, our housing grants are tiered such that they receive more in grants. We have also introduced the ComLink Rental Scheme, enhanced the Fresh Start Housing Scheme, set up the Home Ownership Support Team to closely support rental families towards progress, stability, and the path of home ownership. I was cheered when I heard Ms Janet Ang speak earlier about actual families that she works with.
74. Now I’ve talked about the past few years before Covid, to show how we kept building and keeping pace with housing demand and needs, how we try to build a model to anticipate how during Covid, black swan event, things turn out the way they are. What we are doing, the commitment that we’ve made to address these issues openly, assiduously, transparently. And my colleagues at MND and HDB, and many other agencies are working really hard to tackle today’s challenges. But we also must look at affordability and accessibility and the public housing of Singapore into the future as well.
75. So the important question is, will we have enough land and resources to build new and better homes for younger Singaporeans and the generation after them, and the generation after them?
76. We do. And we will be able to find the space to build homes for Singaporeans for the long term. There are a number of ways we do this.
77. First, we will be making some big moves to create space. These include the relocation of Paya Lebar Airbase, which frees up land for us to build some 150,000 new homes, equivalent to the number of homes in Punggol and Sengkang combined.
78. The Greater Southern Waterfront, not just infrastructure, but also providing for affordable housing in that area. It will also be transformed into a new major gateway and location for urban living along our southern coast, including 6,000 new public housing units to be built on the Keppel Club site.
79. And these are some of the exciting new bounds in our ambition as a distinctive city and endearing home.
80. Second, we will continually redevelop older parts of our city and in due course, also rejuvenate our older estates through the Voluntary Early Redevelopment Scheme, or VERS. This provides us the opportunity to redevelop towns in a sustainable manner and ensure equitable housing through the generations.
81. But will we, the people of Singapore today and tomorrow, continue to be able to afford public housing?
82. Yes. First, we build and price BTOs to ensure affordability, for Singaporeans of various income levels, and access to BTO flats is based on income eligibility and other criteria. This allows us to ensure BTO flats can continue to remain affordable over the long-term.
83. Second, for mature estates, we will price flats affordably, but as I described at length earlier, we cannot price them like Non-Mature Estates. We have implemented the Prime Location Public Housing model to ensure that flats in the Central region remain affordable at the point of sale, and at subsequent resale. But they come with additional conditions to ensure equity and fairness. So that we ensure a good mix of Singaporeans from more diverse walks of life, while ensuring fairness between PLH owners and other flat owners.
84. For choice projects in the Mature Estates, we must study carefully how to continue to keep BTO prices there affordable. And members had given many useful suggestions in this regard. For the resale market, we can also continue to ensure that it grows as an asset for the good part of its duration, for the good part of the buyer’s life, and yet remain affordable.
85. Today resale prices are as they are and we’ve put in cooling measures and measures to address them. But in the long-term, resale prices will be kept affordable and yet remain largely as an appreciating asset for the nest egg of Singaporeans, through a combination of grants and policy measures such as PLH and others, as well as measures that ensure that the property market does not run ahead of economic fundamentals.
86. More importantly, we do this by growing the economy and growing the incomes of Singaporeans at every level. So their incomes grow, their ability to spend, their ability to invest, and their ability to look after their families grow.
87. Mr Speaker Sir, this debate has been very valuable, in allowing us to clarify and put forward clear facts to address the concerns of Singaporeans. By no means are we saying through this motion that all is well and good and that nothing needs fixing; it’s a perfect system.
88. As I’ve said in the opening speech and as reported in the papers, our system is far from perfect, but it has achieved through the generations, outcomes that we have laid on the table today. And there are things we have to tackle today, that are the imbalances of Covid, but are also pieces, work-in-progress, as part of social policy, to ensure affordability and accessibility as our households change, our society matures, our economy evolves, expectations change. And that is our commitment to those twin goals.
89. Public housing has been, and remains accessible and affordable broadly to Singaporeans. And in the next lap we will face new challenges – in terms of ageing infrastructure, more binding land constraints, climate change. And we’ll need our resources, we need our Reserves, and our wherewithal to go through them.
90. As I set out in my opening speech, we disagree with the PSP’s claims in its Motion and decided to table our own Motion.
91. One reason is because we believe that we must maintain housing accessibility and affordability while keeping sustainability in mind, and upholding a culture in politics where we discuss hard truths and trade-offs in a transparent manner, robust manner, even if they may not all be popular.
92. Throughout this debate, Members from both sides of the House also agree that fiscal sustainability is imperative.
93. In fact, Mr Leong’s & the PSP’s position seems also to have shifted, from pricing flats based on median incomes in the 2020 manifesto, to December 2022, eliminating land cost totally from the cost of developing public housing, to today, a deferred payment scheme where owners pay the full cost of land with accrued interest only when they want to sell the flat, as we learnt yesterday.
94. Mr Leong and many members may disagree, whether it’s characterisation or military strategy, but I think it’s quite clear to most of us, including objective observers, that there has been a change.
95. I welcome the convergence of both sides of the House on this principle of sustainability, which lies at the heart of our Motion.
96. I was quite taken by what Mr Cheng Hsing Yao said, and I quote briefly from him. He spoke sensibly and passionately about policy trade-offs yesterday. He said, “An enlightened public leader will carefully weigh the pros and cons of each policy option, never downplay the trade-offs, and never sacrifice the long-term benefits for short-term gratification.”
97. He also cautioned all of us in this House that if we were to give in to the “appealing rhetoric that understates the trade-offs and real costs”, “eventually, it is still the people and the man in the street that suffer the most”.
98. Sir, the PSP’s motion has noble intentions. But the claim by the PSP that our public housing system is fundamentally broken, is something that we cannot accept. It’s not a perfect system, there are things we need to improve today and tomorrow. But to say it is fundamentally through and through, unaffordable and inaccessible, and needs a radical change of the kind that he is proposing together with his party, is something we cannot accept. And if I may say, I believe the Workers’ Party also agrees with the Affordable Housing Scheme as part of supporting the Motion but you can clarify. We think the proposals put forward by the PSP do not address today’s problems and certainly, do not address tomorrow’s problems.
99. Instead, we today have a system that seeks to ensure affordability and accessibility in public housing for Singaporeans, while allowing them to have a stake in Singapore, to enjoy the fruits of economic progress and income growth to the asset of their home, so that they can build up a nest egg.
100. Disruptions from the pandemic have caused imbalances, which we are working hard to address. As I said earlier, our system is not perfect, but we keep improving it and strive to make it better. And we have a strategy to ensure public housing remains affordable and accessible into the future.
101. In that regard, Mr Speaker, I propose that we reject the PSP’s motion, reject the Motion for the reasons I’ve said and stand with us, support our motion, support the plans for today and tomorrow, work together on our public housing journey.
102. As for the Workers’ Party proposal, I think the fact that we have a commitment to the twin goals implies this spirit of always wanting to prove that the issues that we face today, and tomorrow’s challenges, are something to keep an eye on. I think that is evident from the opening speech, that’s evident from my colleagues’ speeches, it’s evident from the speech of speakers in the House.
103. For the Leader of the Opposition to characterise our motion as us sitting on our laurels, and therefore necessitating this late amendment – I think it’s misplaced and therefore I propose that we reject the PSP’s motion and vote down the Workers’ Party attempt at politicking and stand with us.
104. Stand with public housing, stand with giving every Singaporean a stake in housing, but addressed with all humility, the pain points and challenges that they face today as a result of Covid and tomorrow, as a result of the changes in society that Singapore is going through.
105. Mr Speaker, I beg to move.