Response by SMS Tan Kiat How to Mr Louis Chua's motion for adjournment on "Ensuring housing needs of singles and Singaporeans are met"
Sep 13, 2022
1. Mdm Speaker,
2. Ensuring affordable and accessible housing for Singaporeans has always been an important priority for this Government.
a) Today, almost 9 in 10 Singaporeans own a flat – one of the highest homeownership rates in the world.
3. At the same time, we are keenly aware that housing preferences and aspirations change over time, and across different life stages of families and individuals.
a) Therefore, MND and HDB have been actively engaging Singaporeans to understand their needs and aspirations, as reflected in Mr Chua’s theme for the Adjournment Motion. We have been listening to Singaporeans, hearing their views, and taking in their suggestions.
b) Most recently, as part of the year-long Long-Term Planning Review (or LTPR), we have heard from over 15,000 people, from all walks of life, who shared with us their housing aspirations and needs.
4. For example:
a) Seniors shared with us that they would like to age-in-place in the neighbourhood that they are familiar with.
b) Working adults shared with us that they would like to have workplaces closer to home to minimise commute, and to have flexibility to reconfigure their flats to provide more space as more of them work from home.
c) Couples with young children told us that they would like to live near family so that grandchildren can be taken care of by their grandparents.
d) Young couples wanting to get married and settle down shared with us their anxieties of getting a flat at an affordable price, especially in a bullish property market
e) Singles, especially older singles, shared with us that they would like to get a place of their own near their ageing parents so that they can better care for their elderly parents
f) Younger Singaporeans have also shared with us that they value their personal space and would like to stay by themselves, even if it is rental for a temporary basis. Many of them still wish to own their homes eventually.
5. We hear these views, aspirations and needs. We take them seriously and fit them into our LTPR, which was recently exhibited at the URA Centre. We have received many valuable feedback and suggestions, some of which are quite similar to what Mr Chua has raised today. We are studying these suggestions carefully, and we are engaging Singaporeans as part of the Forward Singapore exercise.
6. We would want to meet the needs of all Singaporeans, and their aspirations and wants if we can. But we have limited land and resources and would have to prioritise and allocate within these constraints. I thank Mr Chua for recognising these constraints, and the very difficult stresses and strains the Government has to deal with to accommodate Singaporeans’ housing aspirations, needs and their wants.
a) That is why we need to prioritise our public housing for those who have more urgent housing needs, for example, by implementing BTO eligibility criteria for married couples and singles.
What we have been doing
7. I would like to address a couple of points that Mr Chua has raised. I would like to assure Singaporeans that even as we engage all of you as part of the Forward Singapore exercise, we have already taken steps to address the concerns raised by various demographic groups and segments of Singaporeans. We are also closely monitoring the situation if other measures are needed.
8 I am glad that Mr Chua has recognised the many moves and steps we have taken to give first-timer couples priority, including in the recent August BTO exercise, as well as stepping up and enhancing the various grants and support we give to first-timer couples.
9 We are also taking steps to raise housing supply. I am glad that Mr Chua has recognised that we are working hard with the construction industry, which was severely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, to ramp up BTO supply to up to 100,000 flats till 2025, if demand and circumstances warrant.
10 Mr Chua also spoke about the demand for BTO flats. Although the application numbers have risen and are increasing, four in 10 applicants did not choose a flat when invited to do so. We are monitoring the supply situation, application rates and the locations where application rates are elevated.
11 In terms of affordability, I would like to assure Singaporeans that this is an important consideration for the HDB and the Government. Most first-timers only need to use less than a quarter of their monthly income to pay for their loan instalments. In fact, most of them can service their housing loans using their monthly CPF contributions, with little or no cash outlay.
12. I would like to address the second group of people that Mr Chua spoke about. He spoke about singles and the need to cater for their needs, aspirations and wants. I am also glad that Mr Chua has recognised that over the years, the Government has been trying to accommodate and support their needs. More recently, we have also made changes to the BTO allocation quota for singles.
a) In 2013, we opened access for singles to purchase new 2-room flats from HDB under the Single Singapore Citizen (SSC) scheme.
b) We raised the allocation quota for 2-room flats in 2015, from 30% to 50% of the non-senior quota in the non-mature estates.
13. We still see a fairly strong broad-based increase in housing demand across all groups, including singles. We have further increased the allocation quota to better support all first-timers, including singles.
a) Specifically, we increased the non-senior quota for singles from 50% to 65% with effect from the Aug 2022 BTO exercise onwards.
b) And eligible first-timer singles can also qualify for various housing grants – up to $40,000 for a new flat purchase and $80,000 for a resale flat purchase.
c) So, we have taken steps to adjust and fine-tune our policies to meet the needs and aspirations of Singaporeans, within the constraints of the land and resources that we have.
14. We also observe a trend where more singles, youth, and young couples are renting. There is a vibrant rental market – with a wide variety of both public and private options. Some of these are provided by seniors or families who are renting out their rooms or flats to supplement their income and retirement adequacy.
15. An increasingly popular housing trend, especially amongst the youth, is in the form of co-living or shared housing arrangements with common facilities. These spaces are attractive as they provide the flexibility of shorter-term rental contracts. Some even provide housekeeping services and fully furnished rooms. We see many commercial providers stepping up with innovative offerings that cater to the diverse range of needs for singles and youth.
16. I think that this shows that the market is functioning and responding agilely to consumer demand and preferences. This is an important part of the entire housing market, beyond just public housing and private housing, where we have commercial providers with rental options. We will continue to review developments holistically and assess if there would be ways to work with these private actors to meet the demand from youths and singles, which Mr Chua spoke about.
17. On Mr Chua’s point on lowering the BTO eligibility age from 35 years old today to 28 years old, this is an issue that we have discussed before. Many Singaporeans have also suggested this idea as part of our LTPR conversations, and we will certainly engage this as part of our Forward Singapore discussions.
18. But there are considerations that still remain. There are binding constraints in our land resources as well as the implications on the housing market with enhanced demand, bearing in mind that supply is inelastic, but demand can change very quickly. This might lead to higher prices and those at the margins – such as the elderly singles, single parents, and those with urgent housing needs – might be squeezed out.
19. To sum up, let me thank Mr Chua for recognising the many of the moves and efforts that we have made to accommodate Singaporeans’ aspirations and wants. This is certainly something that we will continue to work on, as part of the Forward Singapore exercise. We will engage Singaporeans on their housing needs and aspirations, and discuss how we can each play our part to build an inclusive home for our families and loved ones. Singaporeans’ housing needs will become more diverse as our society becomes more diverse.
20 Housing is core to each of us, to our families, our society, and as part of our social compact between the Government and citizens, and across generations.
21. Minister Desmond Lee will be launching our Forward Singapore engagements later this month, and we hope that everyone will participate actively, giving us ideas, suggestions and co-create solutions that bring Singapore together and bring Singapore forward, while balancing the needs of various groups of people.