$5,000 HDB benchmark for singles may be reviewed

Singles lamenting that the $5,000 cap on buying new two-room flats from the Housing Board - announced last Friday - is too stringent could see a glimmer of hope in time to come.

Minister for National Development Khaw Boon Wan said yesterday that if demand is manageable, the Government might be able to look at expanding this policy. He said: "Policies must never stay stagnant because circumstances keep on changing."

First-timer singles earning $5,000 or less will now be able to buy new two-room flats directly from HDB, which Mr Khaw said is a "first step" to solving some immediate problems for that specific group of people.

The policy change will take effect from the July BTO exercise, starting with that in Sengkang.

Currently, only singles aged 35 and above can buy resale HDB flats. They can get a cash grant of $15,000 from HDB if they earn $5,000 or less.

Mr Khaw also shared suggestions made by Members of Parliament (MPs) to develop a sustainable way to lower the prices of Build-to-Order (BTO) flats.

Among them was one to extend the minimum occupation period of five years to 10. Another MP proposed setting a shorter lease term for flats than the current one of 99 years, he added.

During the Committee of Supply debate on the Budget last Friday, Mr Khaw mentioned the possibility of bringing BTO prices in non-mature estates to a figure equivalent to around four years of annual salary.

Mr Khaw, who is an MP for Sembawang GRC, was speaking to reporters yesterday at a Sembawang Zone F Residents' Committee mass walk and open-house event at Woodlands Circle.

He called on home owners and potential buyers to air their individual perspectives on the issue.

This is because what home owners want may not coincide with what buyers want, he explained.

Mr Khaw said: "You need to make trade-offs, so how do we make sensible trade-offs that are sustainable?"

He said that in a worst-case scenario, the Government provides a solution which creates new problems. He added: "Then, that's not being responsible."

Policies will have to be carefully forged "step by step", instead of bringing about "a sharp correction in the property market" which will hurt many people.

For instance, the Government cannot continue to build more flats to meet new housing demand as this would mean "hurting the many home owners who can now rent out their properties". He noted: "Some 80,000 to 90,000 families out there - which is a lot - are depending on rental income. They will suffer...if there is a collapse in the rental market."

tsjwoo@sph.com.sg


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