Diverse housing needs of Singaporeans better addressed by Gov’t

At Ministry of National Development’s Committee of Supply debate on March 4, Minister for National Development Mr Lawrence Wong announced various measures to make housing more accessible and to better support the diverse housing needs of all Singaporeans.

diverse housing needsPart of support for diverse housing needs involves helping home buyers access flats faster

Currently, unsold flats from Build-To-Order (BTO) exercises are first offered at Sale of Balance Flats (SBF) exercises. Flats not taken up at SBF exercises are offered through the Re-Offer of Balance Flats (ROF) exercises, before finally being made available for open booking, if they remain unselected. To help buyers get their homes earlier, HDB will do away with the ROF exercises, so that most of the unselected flats from the SBF exercises can be offered directly for open booking.

Part of support for diverse housing needs involves supporting housing needs of unwed parents

MND said that it is committed to supporting the efforts of Singapore’s vulnerable groups, such as unwed parents, to ensure that their children have a stable home to grow up in, and a good start in life. Hence, unwed parents who approach HDB for housing assistance will not be turned away. MND assesses each request holistically and individually, because their circumstances vary.

Unwed parents aged 35 and above can purchase a 2-room Flexi flat in the non-mature estates or a resale flat if eligible. MND has already been exercising flexibility on a case-by-case basis for unwed parents aged 21 and above (but below 35) years old to buy a 2-room Flexi flat in the non-mature estates or a resale flat. It is now prepared to also allow unwed parents aged 21 and above to buy a 3-room flat in a non-mature estate from HDB, compared to only a 2-room flat previously. Unwed parents can also continue to request to buy a resale flat. Those who cannot afford to buy any flat will be considered for public rental flat.

In all of this, MND promises to safeguard the best interests of the child. As such, unwed parents should still approach HDB individually with their housing requests.

Part of support for diverse housing needs involves streamlining monetisation options for seniors

Enhancements to Silver Housing Bonus (SHB)

The Silver Housing Bonus (SHB) was introduced to help elderly households supplement their retirement income when they right-size from a larger flat into a smaller one. Currently, seniors can qualify for the SHB when they top up their CPF Retirement Account (RA) with part of the proceeds unlocked from right-sizing. The amount of top up required depends on the amount of proceeds unlocked. After making a first top up of $60,000, seniors may be required to make a second top up, depending on their remaining proceeds and RA balances. To qualify, seniors also have to be selling a larger flat and buying a 3-room or smaller flat.

The SHB will be simplified and enhanced. Seniors will only be required to top-up $60,000 of their proceeds to their CPF RA to qualify. (Under the enhanced SHB, proceeds is defined as the selling price of the current property minus the sum of any outstanding loan on the current property, the purchase price of the next flat, and resale levy payable.) There will be no second top up required. The requirement that they must be selling a larger flat will also be removed. Seniors can now qualify as long as they buy a 3-room or smaller flat, and they have proceeds from the move. (Private property owners right-sizing to a HDB flat can qualify if their private property has an Annual Value not exceeding $13,000.)

To better support seniors in their retirement, the SHB will be increased to $30,000, up from $20,000 today. This means that seniors will now receive a cash bonus of $1 for every $2 topped up to their CPF RA, instead of $1 for every $3 cash top-up. (Top-ups beyond the prevailing Full Retirement Sum (FRS) do not attract any cash bonus.)

Enhancements to Lease Buyback Scheme (LBS)

The maximum Lease Buyback Scheme (LBS) bonus will also be increased to $30,000 to align with the revised SHB. Currently, owners of 3-room or smaller flats, 4-room flats, and 5-room or larger flats can get a maximum cash bonus of $20,000, $10,000, and $5,000 per household, respectively. The maximum bonus quantum will be increased by 50% to $30,000, $15,000 and $7,500 respectively. (Seniors must top up at least $60,000 to qualify for the maximum LBS bonus. Top-ups beyond the prevailing Full Retirement Sum (FRS) do not attract any cash bonus.)

The enhancements to the SHB and LBS will take effect from March 4. Those who have applied for either scheme but have not yet received their bonus will also benefit, and can expect to receive the enhanced bonus from April 1 onwards.

Part of support for diverse housing needs involves providing alternative housing option for seniors

MND and MOH said that they have been studying the concept of assisted living, where housing is integrated with care services. A series of focus group discussions was conducted last year to gather feedback from seniors and service providers. With positive feedback on the assisted living concept, HDB will proceed to launch the new flat typology in Bukit Batok in May 2020. This typology will come with a service package to support seniors to age in-place.

The block will be designed with large communal spaces on every floor, so that residents can gather with their neighbours conveniently. The flats, sized at about 32 sqm, will be enhanced with senior-friendly fittings and larger bathrooms, and other features to accommodate those with mobility needs. More details such as the service offerings, sales conditions, indicative flat prices and payment options will be shared in the coming weeks.

Support for Households Who Require Direct Lift Access

The Lift Upgrading Programme (LUP) was introduced in 2001 to provide residents with direct lift access to their flats. At the start of the programme, there were more than 5,300 HDB blocks without full lift access.

Over the years, HDB has introduced innovative technical solutions to provide such blocks with lift access. Through these efforts, the vast majority of the 5,300 blocks have since been provided with direct lift access through the LUP. Some examples of solutions that have been successfully implemented include lifts that do not have a machine room at the top of the shafts (i.e. machine room-less lifts), and the use of smaller “home lifts” which are suitable for low-rise blocks.

Currently, there remain about 150 blocks where LUP has not been implemented due to prohibitive costs or site constraints. HDB will continue to explore possible ways, including new technical methods, to bring direct lift access to residents of these blocks.

In the meantime and as part of providing for the diverse housing needs of Singaporeans, residents living in these blocks who are in urgent need of direct lift access due to medical conditions or mobility reasons will be eligible for a Lift access Housing Grant (LHG) of up to $30,000 to help them buy another flat (i.e. either a new flat from HDB, or a resale flat) with lift access. Such residents should approach HDB, and HDB will see how best to assist them.

Written by Ravi Chandran

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