Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Review of housing help for singles "timely"


SINGAPORE : Singles and property watchers have welcomed Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's call for a review of housing policies for unmarried Singaporeans.

They called the move "timely", as prices of resale flats have risen sharply, putting them out of reach for many singles.

Market watchers said a challenge will be balancing the government's pro-family stance and catering to the housing needs of a growing group.

The number of Singaporeans staying single has increased significantly in the last 10 years.

For example, in the 30-34 age group, 21.9 per cent of women and 33.3 per cent of men were singles in 2000. In 2010, the figures rose to 30.6 per cent and 43.1 per cent respectively.

Many singles Channel NewsAsia spoke with expressed a desire to live on their own, be it for the privacy or the need for independence.

One example is 34-year-old Ms Zeng. Under current rules, she will only be allowed to buy an HDB flat from the resale market when she turns 35 next year.

She wants to be able to buy a new flat from the HDB directly, which is a much cheaper option.

She said: "The minimum (smallest) resale flat is a three-room, it is out of our reach. And we also want to live within our means. Why can't we have access to studios, two-roomers? A lot of us are quite happy with just a small unit to be independent."

Meanwhile, 27-year-old Derek Sun said his decision to stay single or be married should not be dictated by housing policies.

Others said the signal that more help may be on the way for singles is a step in the right direction, and it is also a pragmatic one.

Associate Professor Paulin Straughan, a sociologist at the National University of Singapore, said: "The proportion of singles, particularly those in their 30s, has steadily increased, and we do not see this percentage going down in the near future. And these singles are Singaporeans and their needs have to be met. So how much longer can you hold out on them? "

Property watchers said singles have been asking for years to be allowed to buy new flats directly from the HDB, also known as Build-To-Order (BTO) flats.

The key is introducing policies that serve a need, but still support a pro-family culture by providing distinct incentives for getting married.

Eugene Lim, key executive officer at ERA Realty, said: "A scheme that we can perhaps look at is to provide BTO flats on shorter leases, perhaps 60 years. These are sold by HDB directly to the singles.

"We can put a restriction on that. These flats cannot be sold on the resale market. So when subsequently the single gets married, then he would have to sell this unit back to HDB, which HDB can then resell...to another eligible single."

Another suggestion is allowing singles to buy BTO flats in non-mature estates, while leaving the popular mature estates to couples and families.

Director of Chris International, Chris Koh, said that singles should not be prejudiced and be left out of the BTO market entirely due to their lifestyle choices or circumstances. However, a distinction should still be created between singles and couples, to keep in line with the government's pro-family stance.

Meanwhile, the number of singles buying HDB resale flats has been declining over the past three years.

In 2011, 3,972 people bought resale flats under the Single Singapore Citizen (SSC) Scheme.

In 2009, 4,569 singles bought resale flats.

Housing policies for singles have been tweaked over the years.

The SSC Scheme was introduced in 1991, and singles could only buy three-room or smaller resale flats outside of the central area.

In 2001, the location restriction was lifted.

The scheme was further adjusted in 2004, and singles could buy a flat of any size.

To qualify for an HDB loan and the Singles Grant, the income ceiling was set at S$3,000.

Last year, the scheme was further enhanced.

The income ceiling to qualify for the Singles Grant and HDB loan was raised to S$5,000 to cater to more people.

The grant quantum was also raised from S$11,000 to S$15,000.


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