A petition for the Selective En bloc Redevelopment Scheme (Sers) to be put on hold and thoroughly reviewed has been turned down by the Government, as it does not expect many more sites to be eligible for the "highly selective" scheme.
Most of the projects with high redevelopment potential have already been selected, and thus, an extensive review of Sers would be "unnecessary", said the Ministry of National Development (MND) in written responses to a parliamentary committee handling the petition submitted by Progress Singapore Party Non-Constituency MP Leong Mun Wai in August.
Mr Leong had submitted the petition to Parliament on behalf of five Ang Mo Kio residents, who called for a temporary suspension of the scheme and a complete review of how compensation and rehousing options are provided for affected residents.
The Housing Board had chosen Blocks 562 to 565 in Ang Mo Kio Avenue 3 for Sers in April, and residents were unhappy at having to fork out more money to buy similar-sized replacement units in a less desirable location.
This exercise was not the first time residents affected by Sers had to top up to buy a replacement flat, said MND in its reply to the Public Petitions Committee, citing the 2003 Commonwealth Drive and 2016 West Coast Road Sers exercises as examples.
The eight-member committee, which is chaired by Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin and includes Mr Leong, presented a report on the petition to Parliament on Thursday (Nov 17).
The report, which was released to the media, included three rounds of written responses from MND from Sept 16 to Monday.
Responding to various points in the petition, MND said the design of the Ang Mo Kio Sers package and the valuation approach were the same as for previous Sers exercises, and have not changed since the scheme began in 1995.
Only 5 per cent of all HDB flats are suitable for Sers. The valuation for flats acquired under Sers is transparent and performed independently by private licensed valuers, said MND, adding that replacement flats are "significantly subsidised" to ensure affordability.
The only difference between the Ang Mo Kio exercise and previous ones is that two additional rehousing options – a 50-year lease and a lease buyback – were introduced to address residents' concerns, said MND.
The committee asked why HDB offered the new options only three months after affected Ang Mo Kio Sers residents were notified of their compensation package.
In response, MND said HDB was responding to feedback and concerns from residents, especially seniors who wanted a similar-sized replacement flat but did not require a fresh 99-year lease.
On top-ups, MND cited the 2016 West Coast Road Sers exercise where owners of 92 sqm four-room flats had to top up $23,000 for a similar-sized replacement flat at Clementi Avenue 1. Owners of 67 sqm or 68 sqm three-room flats had to pay $7,000 more.
Those who opted for a similar-sized flat at the second replacement site at West Coast Crescent did not have to top up.
In the 2003 Commonwealth Drive Sers exercise, owners of 52 sqm three-room flats who chose to buy a larger 60 sqm three-room replacement flat at Tanglin Halt Road had to top up about $5,600.
MND said whether top-ups are needed will depend on whether residents opt to buy a smaller flat, a unit of the same size, upgrade to a larger flat or move elsewhere.
In the case of the Ang Mo Kio Sers exercise, a significant number of flat owners are expected to top up for a similar-sized replacement flat with a fresh 99-year lease as their existing flats have only 57 years left on the lease, said MND. "They would be exchanging an older flat with only 57 years left to run with a new flat on a full 99 years of leasehold and this is reflected in the differential in value."
The committee also asked if the $30,000 Sers grant and other ex-gratia payments could be increased, in line with the increase in Build-To-Order (BTO) flat prices.
Replying, MND said the quantum of $30,000 remains "relevant and appropriate" today, as it is one of several measures provided to make the replacement flats affordable. These include a generously subsidised replacement flat and other rehousing options – including other BTO flats, the 50-year lease and lease buyback options, said MND.
"The grant must therefore be seen in context, that it provides targeted additional assistance for eligible households over and above a wide array of other options, all of which are designed to keep the replacement flats affordable, according to the means and needs of the Sers flat owners," said MND.
There are no plans to increase the grant amount, it added.
The removal allowance of $10,000 is derived from actual moving expenses, such as the cost of engaging movers at today's prices, which MND said is typically $300 to $500 per truckload.
While there is no renovation allowance, MND said owners may opt for fittings and fixtures under the optional component scheme for their new flat, which can be paid for via their Central Provident Fund account or a housing loan, to reduce the amount of cash needed for renovation.
The petition had also called for a review of the "options of compensation", to which MND said it was not clear what that meant.
"As far as compensation is concerned, the relevant compensation for an acquired flat is the market value of the same," said MND. It added that HDB reviews the benefits package of each Sers site holistically to ensure the policies and benefits remain relevant and meet the needs of residents.
In a statement, Mr Tan said the committee's duty is to "consider, classify and summarise a petition in a form and manner that best conveys all the necessary information in a report to Parliament".
MPs who want to pursue the matter further in Parliament can do so by asking a question or introducing a motion, he added.
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This article was first published in The Straits Times. Permission required for reproduction.