New Options to Get HDB Flats Sooner

July 19, 2017

During the Budget this year, I announced two measures to help couples get their new homes sooner. HDB is ready to launch the two measures.

The first is to offer Build-To-Order (BTO) flats with shorter waiting times by commencing construction of these projects ahead of their launch.

The first batch of 1,000 flats in Sembawang, Sengkang and Yishun will begin construction later this year.

These flats will be launched for sale in the second half of 2018 and will be ready between the fourth quarter of 2020 and first quarter of 2021.

This means that homebuyers will wait about 2.5 years for their flat from the time of application, instead of the typical three to four years waiting time for BTO projects.

The second measure is the introduction of a new way to apply for balance flats. This will help families with more urgent housing needs and who are less particular about location and flat attributes.

Currently, HDB’s Sale of Balance Flats (SBF) are a popular option among households, as the flats are nearer to completion or even completed, and spread across various towns. But after every SBF exercise, there are usually some flats left unsold.

HDB will now pool together these balance flats and re-offer them for sale, as part of a new sales mode called the Re-Offer of Balance Flats or ROF.

Under the ROF exercise, applicants will be shortlisted using a computer ballot, and will get the chance to select any available ROF unit, regardless of flat type and location, based on their queue number.

The first ROF exercise will be held in August 2017 with nearly 1,400 units on offer.

For a start, we plan to have ROF exercises twice a year, alongside the major BTO exercises (and on top of the existing SBF exercises which are also carried out twice a year).

After the initial few rounds, we will do a review and consider whether there is a need to adjust the frequency.

I hope the wider range of options and more regular offer of flats will help homebuyers find a home that best suits their needs.

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High-Tech Farming in Singapore

May 9, 2017

Some of you may have read about local fish farm Apollo Aquaculture opening a new high-tech joint venture farm in Brunei a few months ago. This helps to reduce the risk of supply disruptions by diversifying our food sources.

Another way to enhance our food security is to grow our food locally. Our farms are an important source of vegetables, eggs and fish. Local production provides a buffer against overseas food supply disruptions.

Given our limited space, we will not be able to produce all the food we need. However, new farming technologies allow us to significantly boost our production levels. Not only will this provide us with more locally grown food, it will also help our farmers scale up their businesses.

The Government will do more to help farmers adopt these new technologies. Some have already come on board.

For example, Yili farm is using taller growing houses and semi-automated curtain systems for better ventilation and temperature control. They have also installed curved plastic roofs to protect against the elements.

Yili’s vegetables are now growing better and harvesting losses have been reduced. Farm worker productivity has also increased as they can now work in the growing houses even during hot afternoons.

Another example is coastal fish farm, Marine Life Aquaculture (MLA). Previously, MLA needed over a week to manually transfer 100,000 fish fingerlings using plastic containers from their land-based nursery on Pulau Ketam to sea-cages 100 metres away.

MLA knew that there was a better way so they invested in a live fish pump. The same task can now be done in a day! Using a scanner with imaging technology, MLA is even able to track and count the number of fingerlings automatically during this process.

A modern agriculture sector will continue to play a key role in Singapore’s future, even as our economy evolves and our society becomes more urbanised.

This is why we have set aside new plots of farm land in Singapore for productive and high-tech farming.

These plots will be tendered out with longer 20 year leases, compared to the earlier blocks of 10 years announced previously. This follows from feedback we’ve received from farmers that they needed a longer period to recover the investments for new technologies. Furthermore, in assessing the proposals for these new farm plots, we will place greater emphasis on quality and productivity considerations.

AVA will release more details on the farm land tenders soon.

We hope both existing and new farmers will participate, and work with us on this journey to transform our farms.

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Choosing a Home for Life

March 24, 2017

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I read a recent Lianhe Zaobao article (15 Mar) which highlighted the high prices of several short-lease HDB flats in the resale market.

While resale flats are transacted on a willing buyer-willing seller basis, I was concerned by the suggestion that some buyers are forking out high prices for older flats, in anticipation of the benefits of the Selective En bloc Redevelopment Scheme, or SERS.

But SERS, as the name implies, is on a selective basis.

It is only offered to HDB blocks located in sites with high redevelopment potential. These are typically sites where the land has not been well utilised. It is also subject to the availability of suitable replacement sites for residents and the Government’s financial resources.

This is why only 4% of HDB flats have been identified for SERS since it was launched in 1995.

We will continue to maintain this strict selection criteria.

So please do not assume that all old HDB flats will be automatically eligible for SERS.

In fact for the vast majority of HDB flats, the leases will eventually run out, and the flats will be returned to HDB, who will in turn have to surrender the land to the State.

As the leases run down, especially towards the tail-end, the flat prices will come down correspondingly.

So buyers need to do their due diligence and be realistic when buying flats with short leases. This is especially important for young couples, who have to plan for a much longer future.

Hence, when we enhanced the CPF Housing Grant at the recent Budget, I had advised first-time home-buyers to choose a resale flat with a sufficiently long lease to cover their needs.

How long should the lease be?

Our average life expectancy today is close to 85 years.

One possible guide is to buy a flat that covers you and your spouse to age 95. This would cover most of us for life and give us peace of mind in our golden years.

So a 30-year-old couple could consider resale units with leases that are 65 years or longer. And there are many such options in the resale market today.

With a longer lease, you can benefit from the appreciation in property value in the medium-term, especially after factoring in the Government’s housing grants and subsidies.

Later, when your life circumstances change, such as when your children have grown up and moved into their own homes, you have the option of unlocking the value of your flat by right-sizing to a smaller flat. You can then consider a new 2-room Flexi flat (with leases varying from 15 to 45 years) or a flat in the resale market.

Besides seniors, there may also be other buyers who are interested in cheaper, shorter-lease resale flats. This could include those who are going through a transition in their lives, and are not ready to commit to a longer lease just yet.

Over time, we can expect a more diverse HDB resale market, with flats of varying leases to cater to the different life-cycle needs of Singaporeans.

So I encourage potential homebuyers to sit down with your loved ones, work out your budget and needs, and choose a home wisely.

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Building Homes, Supporting Families

December 14, 2016

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2016 marks another fruitful year of our public housing programme.

We successfully launched about 18,000 BTO flats spread evenly across the mature and non-mature estates. This kept prices stable and offered many choices to home buyers.

Meanwhile, the BTO application rate for first-timer families applying for 3-room or bigger flats in non-mature estates has remained stable and manageable, at 1.5 times for the most recent November launch, and an average of 2.0 times for the whole year. From experience, this means that BTO applicants will be able to get a flat within their first or second try, and most definitely by the third try. Hence, I always advise young families to apply for BTO flats in non-mature estates to increase their chances of success.

I am also glad to see that many more families and singles have benefitted from the initiatives announced last year – about 2,200 more households were able to purchase a subsidised flat under the higher income ceiling; 4,100 households benefitted from the enhanced Special CPF Housing Grant; and about 6,000 households benefitted from the Proximity Housing Grant when they purchased a flat in the resale market close to their parents or married children.

We also made a significant move with the Fresh Start Housing Scheme, which will help second-timer families with young children living in public rental housing own a home again. We have just opened applications for the scheme at the start of the month. I look forward to supporting as many families as possible in their home ownership journey.

All of these demonstrate our commitment to keep home ownership within reach of all Singaporean families. But our work is not complete. We will press on with our mission to house a nation, and to help Singaporeans own a home that meets their budget and needs.

In 2017, HDB will launch about 17,000 new flats for sale to Singaporeans. We are gradually tapering supply but still ensuring a healthy pipeline to meet demand. Once again, we will offer a good spread across the mature and non-mature estates. This will give buyers a range of choices, including young couples who wish to live near their parents or the elderly who want to right-size and age in place.

At the same time, we will continue to monitor the market, make adjustments to our building programme, and review our schemes to meet the housing needs of Singaporeans. For example, over the past year, I’ve received feedback from young couples to make the waiting time for BTO flats shorter. So I’ve asked HDB to plan and prepare the land for several new sites which can subsequently be put out as BTO units with shorter waiting time. These units will not be ready next year, but I hope we can begin to offer them by 2018.

There’s much to be thankful for as we wind up the year. 2016 has been a year of disruptions, surprises, and upheavals around the world. But we’ve kept Singapore an oasis of calm and stability in Asia. With your partnership, I’m confident that we can continue to make progress in our journey to build a better home for all.

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Fresh Start Housing Scheme: A Fresh Start for Families

December 1, 2016

In April, I spoke about the new Fresh Start Housing Scheme. The scheme aims to help second-timer families in public rental flats and with young children to own a home of their own again. I’m happy to announce that Fresh Start is now open for application!

Some second-timer public rental families are ready and hoping to own a home again – they are in stable employment, manage their finances well, and have a stable home environment. However, they may find it challenging to buy a flat, or have worries about making a substantial financial commitment.

Fresh Start will help to bridge the gap for these families by allowing them to buy a more affordable 2-room flat on a shorter lease, and giving them another HDB concessionary rate loan and a new Fresh Start Housing Grant of up to $35,000.

The Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) and HDB will assess the readiness of families who apply, and check in with families who are on the scheme to ensure they remain on track.

We are starting with a more targeted approach. So the number of Fresh Start families may not be large to begin with. But we will keep the scheme open, and families who are keen but do not qualify on their first attempt can apply again when they are more ready. Meanwhile, I encourage them to persevere toward homeownership and seek help to improve their situation.

This scheme marks a new way of integrating housing and social assistance, and implementing it will be a learning process for all agencies involved. This is why I have approached Dr Mohamad Maliki Osman to chair a Fresh Start Advisory Committee to support outreach efforts and provide guidance on the implementation of the scheme.

Dr Maliki was in MND when the scheme was initiated, and has a great deal of experience and knowledge in both social work and housing policy. The committee includes members who are deeply involved in the social sector and community work, and I am glad for their help in getting the scheme off to a good start.

Interested families may visit the HDB InfoWEB or their nearest HDB Branch to find out more. Not everyone will take up the scheme or qualify for it initially. But I know it will make a lot of difference to each family who does, and I wish them all the best in their journey towards home ownership.

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Car-Free Sunday SG is back!

October 25, 2016

Eight months ago, we made an unprecedented decision to close a number of roads in the heart of CBD to vehicles on the last Sunday of each month and transform the precinct into a huge car-free activity space.

We ran this Car-Free Sunday SG pilot over six months, with tens of thousands of Singaporeans joining in the experience.

They enjoyed the car-free road space and participated in the wide range of activities organised in the adjacent public spaces.

Many also organised their own walks or cycling rides, bringing together individuals with like-minded interests.

We’ve received lots of positive feedback. Many asked us to continue the event, and to expand the car-free route.

So I am happy to announce that Car-Free Sunday SG will be back this Sunday, 30 October!

This new run of Car-Free Sunday SG will be even bigger and better!

The route will extend beyond the Civic District into the Telok Ayer conservation area, providing a longer stretch of full road closures.

Combined with longer road closure hours, from 8am to 11am, this means that there will be more options for people to jog, walk or cycle, and explore our city.

We have more community groups contributing their ideas and activities to make the event more fun-filled and meaningful.

More cycling groups are also organising guided cycling trips from the heartlands to the Civic District.

For example, a “bike train”, a special creation by a Bishan resident – Mr Lee Tang Teng, to ferry his friends around their neighbourhood, will be making its debut this weekend and will offer free rides around the Padang.

Car-Free Sunday SG is a step towards our broader vision of a car-lite and people-friendly society.

So do join us and experience the event with your family, friends and fellow Singaporeans – your Sunday mornings will never be the same again!

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Ensuring a Good and Safe HDB Living Environment

September 19, 2016

In July, I had explained in Parliament that MND will study the possibility of helping the Town Councils (TCs) to retrofit their existing lifts with key enhancements and new safety features.

Last Friday, BCA recommended that lift owners update their older lifts with several features that are found in newer lift models. Some of the enhancements include protective devices to prevent unintended movement or over-speeding of the lift cars, as well as lift door sensors to detect any movements before the lift door closes.

All lift owners – be it in private or public sector buildings – should study these recommended lift enhancements and work towards incorporating them in their own lift modernisation programmes.

In the case of HDB flats, TCs are the lift owners and are responsible for their upkeep and lift enhancements. However, the costs of these enhancements are significant and will pose a considerable financial challenge to the TCs. Hence, having studied the matter carefully, I’ve asked HDB to provide additional support to the TCs.

Specifically, HDB will implement a new Lift Enhancement Programme (LEP) which will co-fund around 90% of the TCs’ costs to install the enhancement features. This is a major programme, which will involve significant government expenditure, estimated at around $450 million. But given the importance of lifts in our daily lives and in our high-rise HDB living environment, the Government is prepared to commit to this additional spending and maintain high safety standards.

The LEP will apply to existing lifts that are not due for replacement anytime soon, and will be rolled out over a period of 10 years. So we are looking at lifts that are less than 18 years in operation. For the older lifts, it will make more sense for the TCs to replace them with new lifts which will come with these enhanced features.

The TCs bear responsibility for the eventual replacement of all the lifts under their charge. This requires significant long-term expenditures. TCs must plan ahead and build up their Sinking Funds regularly over time to pay for these major expenses.

Today, the total Sinking Fund balance across all TCs is about $1 billion. This may sound like a healthy amount, but it is still not sufficient to cover the cost of future lift replacements which is estimated at almost $3 billion from now to 2035 (for some 11,500 lifts across all HDB estates). Besides lifts, there will be other cyclical maintenance and replacement works such as façade repair of HDB blocks, cyclical repainting, and replacement of water pipes/tanks. These expenses will also go up as estate infrastructure ages.

This is why every quarter, TCs are required to set aside between 30-35% of their S&CC collections and government grants into their Sinking Funds. With higher expected long-term expenditures, TCs will likely need to contribute more to their Sinking Funds, and set aside more funds for future lift replacements through a new Lift Replacement Fund.

MND will be asking all TCs to prepare and submit their financial projections for their Sinking Funds over the next 10 to 30 years. These projections will enable us to assess the appropriate levels of contribution to the TC Sinking Funds and Lift Replacement Funds.

All TCs must take a long-term view and start planning now for asset and lift replacements in their estates. This is the basis of Singapore’s success. We do not leave things to chance. But we look over the horizon, plan, and prepare for the future. This is the way to ensure a good and safe HDB living environment for all Singaporeans.

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