This was published in the papers a few days ago. I’ve managed to find a full copy of the article online (here) so I’ve only reproduced an abridged version below:

I am getting married in six months. But my fiance and I have not settled on a flat yet as we are hoping to get a new Build-to-Order (BTO) Housing Board unit in a mature estate. In the meantime, we will be bunking in with my in-laws.

We sing the same tune as many other young couples: We want to be in a convenient location – one that’s near our parents and in-laws. We are in our late 20s and cannot afford to pay $1 million or more for private housing. We don’t want to spend on a pricey resale HDB flat either.

Anyway, I believe there’s more to life than being shackled to an exorbitant housing loan for 30 years.

Ms Chung really needs to have a reality check. If you can’t afford private property, then get public housing. As the name suggests, public housing is a public good. The function of a public good is to, and should be, to fill the gaps that the private market cannot fulfill.

Like my fiance, who works in a bank, I don’t see the point of buying a home in an outlying estate for a lower price when we will end up spending more on transport. For me, settling for such a flat just because it is more affordable and I have a greater chance of getting one, is as flawed a decision as buying an ill-fitting skirt just because it is on discount.

We were among the thousands rejected for the Dawson BTO flats in Queenstown that were launched in 2009. The combined 1,718 flats at SkyVille@Dawson and Sky Terrace@Dawson garnered 10,098 applications.

Apart from balloting for some leftover flats in Hougang last year – again, we were not selected – we haven’t applied for a flat since because most of the BTOs were not in areas we favour. My parents live in Serangoon Gardens, so I hope to get a flat in Bishan, Ang Mo Kio or Toa Payoh.

Mature estates are mature for a reason. Most of the available space has already been used to built shopping centers, town centers, MRT stations and all sorts of other frills precisely because the basic need in those estates (i.e. housing) have been met, thus the secondary needs (e.g. entertainment, convinient services etc.) can be met. Naturally, the prices in those areas will be expensive and the likelihood of getting a BTO built there is less.

My fiance and I were ever wondering if we should leave Singapore and explore options elsewhere – since we could not afford to buy a home here in a location we loved, we thought we might as well delay our plans to have a baby right after marriage, relocate somewhere with more exciting opportunities and pay rent.

I can’t afford a house, so let’s play a little longer? Why not pay rent for a location you love, have a kid and in the meantime, grow up? Someone, please tell me the logic in this.

For now, allow me to make some suggestions about how the Government can make lives easier for young couples looking for their first homes.

Sacrifice some Government land parcels in mature estates and allocate them for BTO flats instead of selling them to private developers.

Filling government coffers should come second to ensuring that young couples can afford to buy homes they want to live in – especially since the local birth rate hit at an all-time low of 1.16 last year, down from 1.22 in 2009, and way below the replacement level of 2.1.

While Ms Chung is right in saying that filling government coffers shouldn’t be the main priority, it makes even less sense to build more BTOs  in mature estates if it is to cater to the whims and fancy of the likes of her. Remember that public housing is subsidised. It is not subsidised by the lovely and helpful government, it is subsidised by the good citizens. Citizens who could otherwise benefit from the same amount of government monies used on other public projects.

Do away with the minimum occupation period (MOP) of five years for first-time home owners. If couples have to buy a flat from an outlying estate in order to own a home, then allow them to rent out the whole flat without having to wait out the MOP. For my fiance and myself, the money would help us save enough to eventually buy another place near our parents. Meanwhile, we could live with my in-laws, who will be a great help when I have children.

There are ways to avoid abuse by opportunists. Currently, HDB flat owners are not allowed to own a private property during the MOP. Thus, no one can vie for an HDB flat just so they can earn rental income while living in a private property of their own elsewhere.

Furthermore, there is a dearth of rental flats for divorcees with children who need temporary accommodation, as Mr Khaw pointed out at a youth forum last month. First-time home owners who want to rent out their flats can be matched with these divorcees, or with young Singaporean couples who need an interim space before they buy their own homes.

And now it’s ok to buy a HDB flat to rent out if I bunk in with family but it’s not ok to buy a HDB flat to rent out if I have another property? Ok, how about I buy a HDB flat to rent out, stay with my family and buy a private property but park that under my parents’ name? Ms Chung has finally shown us what she really thinks- that a HDB flat is an investment! Seriously, I get miffed when people think they should be given a free ride to make some money. It creates false demand when as I mentioned, those monies could be put to better public use. Oh yea, and by the way, if there are hardship cases that need rental flats, why should you be an added layer of private interests to benefit from it?

 

Work on improving facilities and transportation systems in non-mature estates. Build more MRT stations, suburban malls and facilities in these areas. Once Sengkang or Bukit Panjang looks like another bustling Serangoon Central or Bishan, who wouldn’t want to live there?

Gladys Chung
Writer
The Straits Times Urban magazine.

Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. 

Chicken and egg problem Ms Chung. By the time all the facilities are in place to meet the total population, you’d be faced with the same problem finding as place as you do now.

This is the problem that HDB and public policy making is facing. There is a group of self-interested individuals demanding that they have their cake and eat it. They want the bells and whistles and yet want it for a dime. I’m not sure how much HDB is listening to nonsense like this but I’m still of the view that public goods should be there to merely fill the gaps- for everything else, there’s the private market. Otherwise, you run the risk of crowding out the private sector and spending public funds on stupid frills when there are people in society who can’t have three decent meals or are in danger of losing the roof above their heads.

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