Govt goes flat out to meet housing needs

Govt goes flat out to meet housing needs

This is the sixth of 12 primers on various current affairs issues, which will be published in the run-up to The Straits Times-Ministry of Education National Current Affairs Quiz.

To wed or not to wed, and then whether to have children, are lifestyle choices.

So is it really fair to give couples priority in the public housing queue simply because they choose to get married and procreate?

After all, even without any leap-frogging, there are options. Renting, though expensive, is one, as is the prospect of squeezing in with in-laws.

Besides, the income ceiling has already been raised - from $8,000 to $10,000 - two years ago to offer more citizens subsidised housing.

Considering there are about 15,000 marriages each year, and that the Housing Board plans to launch about 25,000 new flats annually, plus another 110,000 flats to be completed between now and 2016, a waiting period of a few years is not particularly unreasonable.

Indeed, the HDB has launched flats in record numbers in the past two years. It has released about 70,000 new flats since 2011, compared to the 13,500 flats offered in 2009, and assurances have been given that there are enough new flats for all first-time buyers.

So if the discussion is about home ownership rather than the speed at which one is obtained, the 2012 rate of 90 per cent - a meteoric rise from 1970's 29 per cent - is nothing to be sniffed at. Of these homes owned, about 80 per cent are HDB flats.

This rate is one of the highest in the world, and far ahead of similarly dense populations; in Japan, 61 per cent own homes, while in Hong Kong, that rate is 52 per cent.

Still, it is the waiting time for a flat that remains a bugbear; a national issue, in fact.

With Singapore's total fertility rate (TFR) at 1.2, far below its ideal of 2.1, offering homes to young couples sooner has become arguably the most major incentive to boost the country's low birth rate. (Incidentally, the TFR in Japan is 1.36, while in Hong Kong, it is 1.1.)

Other, non-housing related measures such as baby bonuses have been in place for more than a decade, and yet the TFR has been dropping steadily.

The last time it was above 2.1 was in 1976. Last year, the National Population and Talent Division found the main reasons behind the low fertility rate are more people choosing to remain single, or marry later, and married couples having their first child later.

With the Housing Board's fresh arsenal of measures to provide support for citizens with families, or thinking of starting one, the hope is that the TFR could be coaxed to 1.5, adding about 9,000 babies annually to the average figure of 36,000 per year.

The Parenthood Priority Scheme, for one thing, sets aside 30 per cent of new Build-To-Order flats for couples who have started families before getting their flats. This group also gets as many as half of the balance flats pushed out. Such flats are highly coveted as they are already built or close to completion.

Qualifiers for this scheme must be first-time applicants, meaning they have yet to receive a housing subsidy, and their child must be younger than 16.

During the March Budget debate, the scheme was extended to include pregnant mothers after calls from MPs such as Mr Seah Kian Peng (Marine Parade GRC).

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