Shifting the Balance

February 20, 2015

Four years of hard work, ramping up new home construction, is seeing results. As flats and apartments take 3 or 4 years to build, we are enjoying the harvests of the hard labour.

As supply-demand rebalances, property prices are adjusting. 2014 was the first full year which saw home prices in decline. This was a great relief for home buyers. As the decline was moderate, it was also a relief for home sellers and home owners. A collapse of housing market benefits no one.

As projects’ completion dates vary, we put up a chart last year to track the pipeline supply of new homes for 2014-2017. A total of 200,034 units were projected. With the tapering of HDB’s BTO supply, the new figure stands at 195,788. Home buyers have plenty of choices.

As we move into 2015, we are updating the chart to show the pipeline supply for 2015-2018.

Our current stock is about 1.28m housing units: 960,000 in HDB; 320,000 in private sector.  By early 2018, our stock would have grown to 1.43m housing units, an increase of about 11%.

Our residential market has achieved a better balance between sellers and buyers.

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Promoting Design Diversity

February 11, 2015

At Sembawang Greenvale, a new housing estate near Sembawang Park, we have piloted a new set of planning guidelines.  These new planning guidelines by URA, Envelope Control Guidelines, give architects and homeowners greater flexibility in configuring the interior spaces of their homes.  This was in response to suggestions by our architects and homeowners.  We thought it was a good idea.  But before nation-wide adoption, we tried it out in one new housing estate.  The results are positive.

How is this achieved?

URA guidelines used to spell out the height control at each storey of a home.  The new guidelines free this up, and define only the outline of the building – specifically, a maximum height of 15.5 metres for three-storey homes and 12 metres for two-storey homes.  Existing detailed guidelines on building features such as the attic floor and basement, as well as height restrictions on each floor, will no longer apply.

The new guidelines should be good news to those who want flexibility in interior design.  Owners can ‘layer’ their homes creatively, to bring in natural light and ventilation, and are most likely to benefit those who live in intermediate terraces.

This new Envelope Control Guidelines as applied at Sembawang Greenvale will be introduced island-wide by URA from 11 May 2015.  Do continue to share your ideas at https://www.ura.gov.sg/uol/feedback-redirect.aspx on how we can make our living environment better.

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Happy Birthday, HDB and Thank You!

January 31, 2015

Tomorrow, HDB turns 55.

A recent survey by the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) asked Singaporeans to name 10 events that they thought were most important to Singaporeans.  The formation of HDB on 1 Feb 1960 was on the top 10 chart.  I am glad that HDB’s role in nation building has resonated strongly with Singaporeans.

Its early years were exceptionally challenging.  HDB’s first chairman, Mr Lim Kim San, led HDB to break new ground and laid a strong foundation which successive generations of HDB staff were able to build upon.

Working along with Mr Lim were many HDB staff.  Through their hard work, perseverance and personal sacrifices, HDB grew and moved steadfastly towards its mission.

Mr James BongAmong the oldest is Mr James Bong, now aged 89.

He first worked in the Singapore Improvement Trust, and joined HDB when it was formed.  He was a Resettlement Officer.  In those years, squatters were common in Singapore, and living conditions were squalid.  The most immediate and important task then was to resettle and rehouse the squatters in better HDB homes.

While resettlement from slums to modern HDB now seems obviously positive, convincing the people then to move into high-rise flats was an arduous task.  Officers like Mr Bong faced strong resistance from the squatters as it meant changes to where they lived, how they lived and where they worked.  Tremendous patience and a human touch were needed.  Mr Bong did just that!

There are many other HDB pioneers like Mr Bong.  The impact of their contribution will long be remembered.  They laid the solid foundation, from which we can now move public housing to even greater heights.  “My Nice Home Gallery”, the plans for upcoming Bidadari and Tampines North etc show the transformation of HDB towns in the past 55 years.  A transformation that I am sure our HDB pioneers will feel proud of.  I think we have not disappointed them and I hope to continue to build upon their vision, to achieve greater success.

Appreciation tea for HDB pioneers

Thank you HDB Pioneers and Happy Birthday, HDB!

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Some things are harder to share

January 21, 2015

In 2011, Time Magazine included “the sharing economy” as one of ten ideas that could change the world.  While it has yet to change the world, the sharing economy has begun to make its presence felt.  Think Uber and its robust reception in US, Germany, S Korea.  Some love it; some ban it.

The sharing economy is based on a simple idea that you don’t have to own everything you need, but someone does, and more value can be created for everyone through sharing.  Sharing is of course not new.  Human beings have always shared things.  What is new is our ability to use technology to connect what some people have, to what other people need in an efficient way.

Thus, in many cities, Uber connects car owners to commuters via convenient easy-to-use mobile apps.  It has been great for commuters, but the taxi drivers are not amused.  In Germany, they lobbied the Government to ban Uber. But overall, there are certainly great consumer benefits if more cars are shared and put to greater use for more people.

However, some things are harder to share than others.

Airbnb is an online community platform which allows home-sharing, renting out spare rooms to say, tourists for a few days.  But it has become hotly debated in many cities. New York City has banned it while Amsterdam and San Francisco allow it but are considering tighter regulations.

While it earns extra income for the home owners, their neighbours would not like to see their quiet neighbourhood becoming a hotel district.  I myself think it’s not a good idea.  We certainly do not allow such arrangements in HDB towns.

URA has been receiving views and comments from private home-owners. Some shared that they would enjoy the international friendships and cultural exchanges, but many others are uncomfortable with the presence of transient visitors in their community and utilising common facilities intended for bona fide residents. To them, short-term rental arrangements would result in the loss of privacy and sense of security.

To get a fuller picture, URA is conducting a public consultation on short term stays for private homes. If you have a view on this subject, do share it with them.

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First Flat, First Home, Lasting Memories

December 31, 2014

Naturally, we attach strong feelings to our first: our first date, our first kiss, our first job, our first child etc.  Our first experience lingers on and evokes strong nostalgia.  They often make lasting memories.

Among the many firsts, our first HDB flat, which for most Singaporeans, is often also our first home, occupies a special place in our heart.  This is where we build our family, bring up our children and from where we build our network of neighbours and close friends.

In most other cities where most people rent their homes, people often move and shift to new places as they change jobs. In Singapore, we are unique because of HDB and its highly successful “Home Ownership for the People Scheme” which entered its 50th Anniversary this year.  Home owners, unlike tenants, largely stay put in one place.  The stability allows us to build deep community ties and lasting friendship and memories. Our first HDB flat therefore takes on special role.

How many Singaporeans today live in their first flat and their first home?

Today, 6 out of 10 owners of 900,000 flats in Singapore live in their first HDB flat. This is a remarkably high percentage of 61%.

Among the 26 HDB towns/estates, the percentage ranged from 53% (Woodlands) to 77% (Tanjong Pagar/Chinatown/Bugis).  The other high-scorers are Marine Parade (74%), Kallang/Whampoa (68%), Bt Timah/Geylang (67%) and Ang Mo Kio/Bishan/Punggol/Serangoon (66%).  Not surprisingly, the attractions of (central) location and comprehensive facilities make most owners living in mature estates decide to stay put.  (Punggol with its superior layout and design was a pleasant exception, also partly due to its relatively young age.)

Knowing that the majority of Singaporeans will live in their first HDB flat for most, if not all, of their lives, we have to make sure that we put in our best to make all HDB towns an endearing town and all HDB flats a lovely home.  This is our promise.  This is our pledge.

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More than a builder of flats, he raised building productivity

December 29, 2014

The passing of Dr Michael Fam was a sad news as we prepare for SG50.  He was very much a part of the Singapore Story.

Among his many accomplishments, he gave 14 years of his life to HDB and public housing.  He brought his immense expertise from the business community to bear. Dr Fam served on HDB Board from 1969 to 1983, first as a Board Director and later as Chairman, HDB from April 1975 to July 1983.

Under Dr Fam’s leadership, public housing doubled its stock from 200,000 units of flats (in 1975) to 400,000 units (in early 1980s). Many of the flats in Bt Batok, Clementi, Hougang, Jurong, Tampines and Yishun were built during his term of leadership.

For new precincts, Dr Fam steered HDB to improve its planning and design concepts, achieving high design standards comparable to private homes.  For old estates, Dr Fam helped HDB to upgrade their general living environment.

In late 1970s, when many local HDB builders shied away from HDB projects as the construction industry faced rising cost, Dr Fam deftly guided HDB in negotiations with foreign contractors and concluded agreements with international contractors to build over 50,000 units using prefabricated and industrialised methods of construction. He also helped to nurture a group of reliable and skilful local public housing contractors. His efforts swiftly ensured that the HDB building programme stayed on track.

Dr Michael Fam had lived a good and meaningful life, touching the hearts of Singaporeans, including many living in HDB towns.  Thank you, Dr Fam.

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My Waterway@Punggol closes 2014 on a perfect note

December 29, 2014

This morning, I was at Punggol to witness the handover to HDB of a completed block at the Waterway Woodcress BTO project.  This is the last BTO handing over event for the year and is noteworthy on three points.

First, it marks the completion of 28,000 new flats in 2014.  That is quite a record for the HDB in recent years.

Second, Waterway Woodcress is the first completed BTO project along the iconic “My Waterway@Punggol”.  This brings waterfront living to HDB residents and raises the quality of HDB precincts to a higher plane.

Third, Waterway Woodcress was also one of the first BTO projects that I launched in my first year at MND when we decisively ramped up HDB building programme to meet the supply shortfall.

I visited Mr Kayom and his family, proud owners of a new 4-room flat in Waterway Woodcress.  They are enjoying every moment of waterfront living and the captivating views.

2014 marks the turn of the housing market in Singapore.  Prices have been moderating and the market shifting from a seller’s to a buyer’s market.  The shift is not yet complete and 2015 should see greater stability.

We are scaling down the pace of construction but remain proactive on refining our policies to meet diverse housing needs of flat buyers and home owners: singles, married couples who wish to live together with or close to their parents, seniors who wish to monetise their large flats etc.

In 2015, we will see 26,000 new flats being completed and handed over to buyers.  They include iconic projects such as the Waterway Terraces, as well as SkyTerrace@Dawson and SkyVille@Dawson.  I know the owners are eagerly waiting to receive the keys, as many of them wrote to me about it.

But next year, we will be launching a lower number of new flats, at 16,900 flats. Nonetheless, we will still ensure a diverse mix of flat types and locations, including Bidadari, Punggol Northshore and Tampines North.  I expect them to be popular.  They will be iconic in their own unique way.

For HDB, 2014 is ending on a perfect note.  If the global environment remains benign, I expect 2015 to also be spectacular for Singaporeans and HDB residents.  On this note, let me wish all a Happy New Year!

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