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Singapore to revisit equitable housing options: Echoes of opposition proposals?

Singapore’s National Development Minister Desmond Lee announces plans to study more equitable housing access, echoing proposals and ideology previously rejected from the opposition Progress Singapore Party. The move raises questions about the government’s shifting stance on public housing policies.



SINGAPORE: National Development Minister Desmond Lee has announced plans to study suggestions for improved equitable access to housing for singles.

This encompasses both mature and non-mature estates, as well as prime locations. The announcement forms part of the Forward Singapore exercise, an initiative engaging Singaporeans in dialogue about their housing aspirations and needs.

On Sunday, Mr Lee addressed 90 participants, emphasizing the varied housing needs of singles and second-time buyers. He warned against relying solely on market forces and basic rental social safety nets, pointing to potential housing issues observed in other successful cosmopolitan cities.

Potential solutions raised include “rent-to-own” models and purchasing flats with shorter leases. These aim to accommodate affordability concerns and individuals who prefer to rent initially due to financial considerations or a desire for flexibility.

Acknowledging shifting societal trends, Mr Lee noted the increase in single households, delayed marriages, smaller families, and a growing number of transnational families. He stressed the need for public housing to evolve in response, ensuring it remains affordable, accessible, and inclusive while considering land and carbon constraints.

The exclusion of singles from purchasing new prime location public housing (PLH) flats directly from the Housing Board or the PLH resale market was also discussed. This highlighted the limitations this policy places on singles who are already constrained by a housing policy favouring traditional nuclear families.

Proposed housing types under consideration include co-living spaces and inter-generational housing. For second-time home buyers, Mr Lee acknowledged unique challenges, including the need for larger homes for expanding families and the desire to downsize for empty-nesters.

Interestingly, this shift in approach to catering for singles and relooking at public housing by Mr Lee and the People’s Action Party follows their objection to the Progress Singapore Party (PSP)’s Affordable Homes Scheme and Millennial Apartments Scheme in a parliamentary debate months ago.

The Affordable Homes Scheme, based on a deferred land cost idea first proposed by PSP member Dr Tan Meng Wah, allows Singaporeans to buy a new flat at construction cost plus a notional location premium. The land cost would only be paid when the flat is sold in the resale market after the Minimum Occupation Period.

Should a Singaporean stay in the same flat his entire life, he will only pay the user price. This user-price concept was first suggested by Mr Yeoh Lam Keong, the former Chief Economist of GIC.

The PSP’s proposed Millennial Apartments Scheme involves the government maintaining a large stock of quality rental flats in prime locations near the Central Business District. These flats are intended for young families or groups of singles and would be leased out for 2 to 5 years.

The scheme aims to bring young Singaporeans together, providing single individuals with more opportunities to socialize and perhaps marry. Meanwhile, those who are already married will have more time for their families due to the proximity to their workplaces.

Rejecting the proposals presented by PSP’s Non-Consituency Member of Parliament Leong Mun Wai, Mr Lee stated that the proposals “do not address today’s problems and certainly do not address tomorrow’s problems”.

The Minister then urged the Parliament to reject PSP’s motion and its proposals, to dismiss the Workers’ Party’s attempts at politicking, and to support the current policy with public housing, thus maintaining every Singaporean’s stake in housing.

In a surprising twist, ideas similar to those proposed by the PSP are now resurfacing in the government’s considerations. One has to wonder whether the People’s Action Party is subtly adopting the proposals of their opposition once again, framing them as its own despite previous criticism.

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