HDB gave nearly $2 billion in grants

To help keep flat ownership within reach of Singaporeans, the Housing Board has given out almost $2 billion to households here, under two major public housing grants.

Under the Additional CPF Housing Grant (AHG) scheme, which offers up to $40,000 for first-timers buying new or resale flats, $1.6 billion has been given out to 82,873 households since it was introduced in March 2006.

The Special CPF Housing Grant (SHG) of up to $40,000, which is for first-timers buying new four-room and smaller flats, was introduced in March 2011. Since then, $297.6 million has been given out to 19,542 households.

Most - 17,930 - took up the SHG after changes in July 2013, when the income ceiling was raised and the grant was extended to four-roomers. It had previously been for three- and two-roomers.

HDB figures showed that from January to the end of November, 8,098 households received the AHG. This was slightly less, proportionately, than the 9,817 households that received the grant in the whole of 2014.

The difference between the years was greater for the SHG.

In the first 11 months of last year, 7,192 households received the SHG. This was about a quarter less, proportionately, than the 10,095 households that received it in all of 2014.

This is despite improvements to the SHG announced in August last year that made it more attractive and available to more families.

Families earning up to $8,500 a month became eligible, compared with a maximum $6,500 previously.

According to the HDB, this made an additional 6,500 families eligible for the grant. The maximum grant amount was also doubled from $20,000 to $40,000.

One reason the SHG take-up rate fell despite these changes could be that the changes kicked in only at the November launch of new flats.

Unlike in 2014, when new flats were launched every two months, there were only three launches last year. The biggest, in November, formed almost half the year's total supply and combined the planned August and November launches.

The AHG and SHG cases from that bumper launch are not included in the 2015 figures, the HDB said. "The number of cases that took up AHG and SHG in 2015 would be much higher if the deferment of the August 2015 BTO is taken into account."

Another factor could have been the overall fall in the number of new flats launched last year, compared to 2014.

In 2014, a total of 29,129 flats were offered in Build-To-Order and Sale of Balance Flats exercises. Last year, this fell to 25, 837.

The cut in supply would have affected the take-up rate of the SHG, in particular, as it applies only to new flats bought from the HDB, and not to resale flats.

SLP International Property Consultants' head of research Nicholas Mak noted that if the take- up rate was adjusted for the change in supply, it would have risen.

And more BTO units launched last year were from mature estates, compared with 2014, noted OrangeTee senior manager of research and consultancy Wong Xian Yang.

This would have affected take-up rates as the SHG is only for four-room and smaller flats in non-mature estates, he added.

A place to call their own, finally

Last March, Madam Selvaranee Kanakasabai, 38, and her two teenage children finally moved into a home of their own, after years of living in rented rooms and interim flats.

The 38-year-old single parent applied for a new two-room flat in Senja Road in 2014, under a Sale of Balance Flats exercise.

Initially, she had hoped to get a three-room flat.

"It would have been nice to have another room for the children, since they are grown-up now," she said. Her daughter is aged 16 and her son, 15.

Given her monthly income of $1,500 as an administrative assistant, she was advised to apply for a two-room unit instead.

The unit she chose cost about $130,000.

Her income meant that she qualified for the maximum Additional CPF Housing Grant of $40,000, and the maximum Special Housing Grant of $20,000 - almost halving the effective cost of her flat.

"I didn't fork out any cash because it was covered by my CPF," she said.

The family collected the keys early last year, and moved into the new flat in March.

At first, the flat came with a plain concrete floor. But after some help from the HDB to do the required screeding, thefamily put in wood laminate flooring for a more pleasant feel to their new home.

"I do like it, though the kitchen area is rather small and narrow for us," said Madam Selvaranee.

Previously, the family had been living in a three-room interim flat in Dover for about half a year.

That flat had a bigger kitchen, but it was also shared with another family. Madam Selvaranee's family had one bedroom and shared the living room and kitchen.

Before that, the family had shared another interim flat, in Taman Jurong, for more than three years.

The new flat's location in Bukit Panjang is a plus. "My mum's house is nearby. It's very convenient for me and my children to visit her," said Madam Selvaranee.

But, above all, she and her children are glad they no longer have to share a flat with others.

"We are very happy that we finally got a place all to ourselves, after so many years," she said.


This article was first published on January 4, 2016.
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