SINGAPORE - There is room for more private sector involvement and policy tweaks in the housing provision needs for both the elderly and singles, suggests a white paper by property consultancy Colliers International, and this could start with the government offering longer-tenured land for retirement villages.
By selling land for the development of retirement villages with longer tenures of 99, 120 or 150 years, the economic lifespan of the retirement village units can be recycled/renewed - assuming that the retirement village offers occupiers the option to rent on a short- term basis (that is, one-, two- or three-year tenancies), or to purchase a medium-term lease (that is, 15-, 20- or 30-year leases) - and the developer will be able to generate a reasonable return, the consultancy said.
"While land with shorter tenures for retirement village development would be less expensive, there is less incentive for private developers," said Colliers.
"With shorter land tenures, the developer still needs to develop elderly- centric accommodation and incorporate healthcare and community facilities and services, but there would be little time left to realise stable and healthy economic returns."
Indeed, when a land parcel on Jalan Jurong Kechil with an original lease period of 30 years - zoned to be developed into condomi- nium/flats or retirement housing - was made available for sale through the Reserve List system in 2006, it failed to attract developers.
Following the addition of lease options of 45 years or 60 years, the site was triggered for tender based on a 60-year lease term in September this year; the tender closed last month with 23 contending bids.
According to figures from the Department of Statistics, as at end-June 2011, some 352,600 residents (9.3 per cent) were aged 65 years and over, an increase from 243,700 (7.3 per cent) recorded in 2001.
This figure is expected to reach 600,000 or 15 per cent of the population by 2020, and 960,000 or 20 per cent of the population by 2030.
"(That 23 bids were received) shows that developers, as well as eldercare organisations, believe that tenures of more than 30 years, and even 45 years, will be feasible in light of the demand for residences," said Colliers.
In a similar vein, the number of one-person households grew 85.5 per cent from 75,400 in 2000 to 139,900 in 2010. Taking into account singles who live together, the number of resident households with no family nucleus was 195,784, according to the Population Census 2010.
In 2010, 12.2 per cent of all resident households were income-earning households with no family nucleus, representing a sure and steady increase of singles living alone or with other singles from the year 2000 onwards.
It is also worth noting that the number of resident households with no family nucleus does not encompass all the singles in Singapore, as some singles also live with their families but may have aspirations for a place of their own.
To ensure that singles do not feel unduly marginalised, a ratio/quota system could be used to allocate new built-to-order (BTO) flats to singles, based on a suitable proportion that the government deems healthy in the make-up of a typical residential block, said Colliers.
This ratio/quota system would be similar to the ratios set for newly formed families staying in HDB blocks where more mature families are also allocated, and the ethnic quota.
Separately, HDB could consider allocating a portion of studio apartments in a block to qualified singles during the BTO application exercise.
"Families (such as couples without children) who feel that a studio apartment fits in with their lifestyle should also be welcome to apply for such units. This suggestion would foster the integration of singles and families living in the same environment," said Colliers.
While senior citizens and singles are not likely to ever become the majority in the stratum of Singapore's population, their numbers are substantial enough to contribute to potential demand in the residential market, noted the consultancy.
"Perhaps if products are made to fit each of these groups, HDB and private developers may find their projects selling to a more targeted prospective clientele of owner-occupiers, and less so to short-term speculators seeking to take advantage of the volatile shifts in sentiment."