Another Fruitful Year for Public Housing

December 14, 2017

2017 has been another fruitful year for public housing. This year, we focused much of our efforts on helping first-timer families move in to their homes more quickly.

For first-timer couples looking to settle down quickly, we made buying a flat on the open market more affordable by enhancing the CPF Housing Grant from $30,000 to $40,000/$50,000 in February 2017.

In total, first-timer couples can now receive up to $110,000 in grants (comprising the enhanced CPF Housing Grant, Additional CPF Housing Grant and Proximity Housing Grant) when buying a resale flat. Since the changes, close to 6,900 first-timer households have benefitted from the enhanced CPF Housing Grant.

We also enhanced the Parenthood Provisional Housing Scheme (PPHS) to help couples who are waiting for their new flat to be ready. To date, about 840 households have benefitted from the higher PPHS rent subsidies.

In August 2017, we launched the first Re-offer of Balance Flats (ROF) exercise, which pools together unsold flats for sale to those with more urgent housing needs, or who are less particular about location. While the flat selection exercise is still ongoing, about 800 households have already managed to book a flat.

All these mean that young couples will have even more affordable and accessible housing options to start their marriage and parenthood journey early.

For 2018, HDB will maintain a steady supply of about 17,000 new flats, comparable to the 17,584 flats launched in 2017. We will continue to calibrate our flat supply carefully, taking into account underlying demand and the stability of the HDB resale market.

Over the course of the coming year, new flat buyers can look forward to a good spread of projects across mature and non-mature estates, including flats in the new Tengah town.

In the second half of 2018, we will launch about 1,000 flats in Sembawang, Sengkang and Yishun. These flats will have shorter waiting times of about 2.5 years, instead of the typical 3-4 years for most other BTO projects.

We will also continue our efforts to ensure that our housing policies remain inclusive and enable families to live closer together for mutual care and support.

Here’s wishing all a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

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Faster and easier HDB resale transactions

October 19, 2017

A HDB resale transaction can be quite an involved process for both buyers and sellers. Currently, it takes about 16 weeks to complete a resale transaction, requiring two appointments with HDB.

We can do better than this.

Earlier this year, I shared that we will make use of technology to make the resale process faster and more streamlined. After months of preparation and consultation with stakeholders, HDB is ready to launch the HDB Resale Portal on 1 January 2018.

This is a new digital platform to guide flat buyers and sellers through the HDB resale transaction process. You can conduct eligibility checks, submit resale application forms and upload required documents on a single platform.

With the portal, HDB will streamline its internal processes and reduce the number of resale appointments from two to one. The first appointment will no longer be needed as the required documents and verification checks can be completed digitally. You can do away with the filling of hard-copy forms, and save on a trip to HDB hub.

In fact, if buyers and sellers submit all documents online promptly, the resale transaction time can be halved from 16 weeks to around 8 weeks!

This new platform is an example of how digital technology can be applied in practical ways to streamline existing processes and make citizens’ lives more convenient. It is one of the initiatives under our Real Estate Industry Transformation Map (ITM) and part of our move towards being a Smart Nation.

The HDB Resale Portal will also benefit real estate salespersons. It will free them up from time-consuming administrative work and allow them to focus on higher value-added work.

In developing the portal, HDB has taken in feedback from stakeholders to ensure that it is user-friendly. But we are mindful that there may be some flat buyers and sellers who will need help to use the new portal. HDB will set up a dedicated helpline and helpdesk at the HDB Hub to guide those who require assistance through the resale process.

I encourage buyers and sellers to share your feedback with HDB, so that it can continue to improve the system, and serve our residents even better.

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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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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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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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Engineering Better Homes for All

July 31, 2016

Engineering is a critical part of HDB’s work.

Our colleagues at HDB engage in continuous research and development, and come up with innovative solutions to create a better living environment for residents.

In recognition of its work, HDB has been conferred several engineering awards. The Pinnacle @ Duxton, My Waterway@Punggol and the Lift Upgrading Programme were also voted among Singapore’s top 50 engineering feats.

However, the research and engineering at HDB are not all about hardware and buildings.

Through innovation, HDB also enhances the flora and fauna around our neighbourhoods and the overall quality of living in HDB estates.

Recently, HDB was conferred the IES Prestigious Engineering Achievement Award 2016 for their innovative engineering solutions that enhanced biodiversity at the Punggol Waterway, through the cultivation of freshwater-tolerant mangroves, and a one-of-a-kind floating wetlands system.

Along the banks of the Punggol waterway, HDB cultivated 35 freshwater-tolerant mangrove species. Besides creating a more scenic waterway, the mangrove roots help to bind soil effectively and stabilise the slopes at the riverbanks.

Some of the mangrove species were also deliberately chosen to improve and restore the coverage of endangered native mangroves in Singapore. One such endangered native species that you can see at the waterway is Lumnitzera littorea, also known as Teruntum Merah. It is easily identifiable by its dainty red flowers, when it blooms.

The floating wetlands system is another innovation that not only introduces more greenery to the water surface but can also be used as a floating platform.

Together, the mangroves and floating wetlands act as natural water cleansers. Using plants species which could effectively absorb excessive nutrients and pollutants from the water, HDB was able to improve water quality by up to 30%!

I’m also heartened to learn that a variety of wildlife have since made the mangroves and floating wetlands their home. Comprising 92 species of birds, 11 species of butterflies and 17 species of dragonflies, the thriving ecosystem along the waterway includes endangered bird species such as the Black-crowned Night-Heron and Oriental Magpie-Robin.

The mangroves and floating wetlands have made Punggol Waterway a green and peaceful oasis for residents.

We have learnt much from the engineering solutions deployed here, and will continue to do more.

HDB will extend its green innovations to other new estates as well, for example, in Bidadari and Tampines North.

HDB is also exploring further uses of its floating platform system, such as to support the deployment of solar panels in our housing estates.

These are just a few of the many exciting possibilities to explore.

Through engineering and innovation, we can build better homes for all Singaporeans!

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