13,600 flats on track to be ready by end of the year

PHOTO: 13,600 flats on track to be ready by end of the year

The Housing Board is on track to meet its target of building 13,600 flats this year, despite the tightening in the inflow of foreign labour.

At the same time, the Government is keeping a close eye on the supply of both public and private homes, to avoid creating a problem of having too many flats.

This delicate act of ramping up supply without causing a glut is a key strategy in the Government's move to engineer a soft landing in the housing market, said National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan on Monday.

For the public sector, "I don't see (a glut) happening, not this year, not next year", Mr Khaw told reporters at a handover of a Build-to-Order (BTO) block of flats in Woodlands.

He is less sanguine about the private sector, where the threat of an oversupply is a bigger worry as owners may be unable to earn the rental income to pay their loans.

On the other hand, he is "slightly more relaxed" about oversupply in the public sector because "I want to build up a little bit of an inventory to allow for people to, almost on demand, buy a flat".

Still, the current building pace is not sustainable and he expects the number of new HDB flats built to moderate after 2015.

"As we clear the backlog, we should be able to move back to a steady state, not necessarily even 15,000 units a year," he said.

The reason: Some of the 15,000 couples who marry each year - HDB's core target group - may want to buy resale flats, he noted.

In the past two years, the pace of building has quickened, after Mr Khaw became the National Development Minister and set out to provide the backlog of married couples with their own homes.

The full impact of the move will be felt in the next two years, with 26,000 to 29,000 new flats set to be completed each year.

But this year, the supply is 13,600 and, at this mid-way point, 6,000 are ready and HDB contractors are confident of completing the rest by the year end, he said.

So, "if you're a first-timer looking in non-mature estates, there's guaranteed a flat for you to select". "That's the situation now," he said, referring to the current round of BTO applications which closes on Wednesday.

Speaking at Treegrove@Woodlands, Mr Khaw also noted that buyers are now getting the keys to their flat earlier, soon after their block is completed, Previously, they had to wait for several blocks to be ready before they were given their keys.

With the problem of housing married couples resolved, Mr Khaw's priorities now include other groups as well, such as singles and second-timers. Singles aged 35 and above can apply for new two-room flats from next month.

Besides HDB construction, Mr Khaw also keeps close tabs on the building of private homes because, together, they form "an important element in our soft-landing mission".

As of end-April, 3,500 private units are completed. The Government estimates the remaining 14,900 units can be completed this year.

He noted that people tend to buy private property for investment, so the danger is if there is a glut and "you cannot get tenants". "The rental yields will go south very quickly," he said, hitting hard those who bought a property out of their price range with a cheap loan.

"We are quite global and many factors are beyond our control," he said, citing the global low interest rates. "So far we've been lucky, but don't count on that for too long," he added.

charyong@sph.com.sg


Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.