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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Finding the right balance

June 8, 2016

The Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) announced the Government Land Sales (GLS) Programme for the second half of 2016 earlier today.

In considering the land quantum for the 2H2016 GLS programme, we have taken into account several factors:

First, the decline in the number of remaining unsold private homes, as well as the corresponding pick-up in new private home sales at a monthly average rate of 600 units over the last 12 months.

Second, the actual supply of private homes committed to in the first half of the year. This worked out to 2,130 homes, higher than the 1,560 homes offered in the GLS programme over the same period, due to the successful sale of a Reserve List site in February 2016.

With these in mind, we have increased the supply of new private homes on the 2H2016 Confirmed List to match the actual committed supply in the first half of the year. So over the next six months, we will sell four sites on the Confirmed List, which are expected to yield around 2,170 private homes.

If we were to include the sites on the Reserve List, we will have a total potential supply in the second half of the year that is similar to what was provided previously in 1H2016.

All this will help to meet the current demand for new housing sites from developers, and add to private housing supply over the medium term.

Besides the overall quantum, we have also taken a closer look at the location of the sale sites.

In particular, we have continued to focus on sites in suburban areas, as these are the preferred locations for most first-timers and upgraders.

In line with this, two of the sites from the latest GLS programme are in areas outside the Central Region – at Fernvale Road in Sengkang and West Coast Vale in Clementi – which can provide approximately 1,150 new homes.

We are also offering a site at Upper Serangoon Road, close to the upcoming HDB estate at Bidadari, for a mixed-use development comprising residences and a commercial complex. This complex will house retail and food outlets, offering many conveniences to the future residents of Bidadari Estate.

The new private homes from these sites should be completed around 2020. They will provide more choices for families looking for suburban private homes.

Over the coming years, MND will continue to provide a steady supply of land for private housing.

We are mindful that excessive supply in a weak market can exacerbate a decline in prices. At the same time, insufficient supply can result in a future shortage and an unwarranted spike in housing prices when demand picks up.

So we will continue to monitor the market closely, and find the right balance to ensure sustainable housing prices and a stable property market.

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Home for Every Budget and Need

May 24, 2016

The May 2016 Build-To-Order (BTO) exercise was launched earlier today.

A total of 3,770 BTO flats are available for application, alongside another 5,170 flats in the concurrent Sales of Balance Flat (SBF) exercise.

I know many buyers have been looking forward to this launch, as it has been more than three years since HDB last offered BTO flats in Ang Mo Kio, Bedok, and Bukit Panjang.

I’m sure those with families living nearby would be especially excited, more so when HDB is also offering 114 3Gen flats in Ang Mo Kio and Bukit Panjang, for the first time, to help multi-generation families live under one roof.  Those applying for other flat types to live near or with their parents will also continue to enjoy higher priority through the Multi-Generation Priority Scheme and the Married Child Priority Scheme.  This is how we support the building of stronger families.

The last two BTO launches were well-subscribed, with flats in mature estates like Bidadari attracting much interest.  Building on this, HDB is offering more options of BTO flats in mature estates such as Ang Mo Kio and Bedok.  These flats, together with the SBF flats located in another 12 mature estates, will offer many choices to young couples looking for HDB flats in convenient locations or nearer to their parents.  But given their popularity, application rates for these mature estate flats are expected to be high, which means a lower chance of success.  So applicants have to be prepared for this.

In fact, I would encourage young couples to apply for BTO flats in non-mature estates.  There are some 2,800 such flats in this launch.  They are generally more affordable and come with more grants.  For example, a 3-room flat starts from $147,000 before grants, or $77,000 after grants.  By opting for a 3-room flat in Sembawang instead of one in a mature estate like Bedok, you get to save more than $100,000 instantly, which you could set aside for renovation and more.  You will also enjoy a much higher chance of success in your application.

There’s a perception that flats in non-mature estates are located far from work, and are not as well served by transport connections, or other amenities and facilities.  But there are significant development plans in many of these areas, which potential home buyers should take into consideration.  Also, our efforts to decentralise our urban development and build commercial centres outside the city will create more investments and jobs closer to homes in these areas.

I remember when my parents bought their HDB flat in Marine Parade back in the 70s.  At that time, it was a completely new town with few amenities.  There were also concerns about it being built on reclaimed land.  But look at how the whole area has developed over time.  So a ‘non-mature’ estate today can become a ‘mature’ estate tomorrow.

For this launch, there are also more choices for those in need of a flat earlier.  The concurrent SBF exercise offers 5,000 balance flats across 25 towns and estates.  These are flats which are already under construction or completed, so the time to key collection will be faster than BTO flats.  This will help families with a more urgent need for housing or who are looking for flats in certain specific locations.

Whether it’s price, location, or waiting time, the close to 9,000 flats to choose from in this sales exercise will ensure that you can find a home that meets your budget and needs.  So do consider the various options carefully, and good luck in finding your home sweet home!

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Another Successful Year of Housing a Nation

December 30, 2015

SG50 has been a special year for all Singaporeans.

As we celebrated our Golden Jubilee, we also had many moments to reflect on our progress as a nation.

A major part of this journey in nation building is our home ownership programme.

This morning, I visited a few families who recently moved into their new flats in the Tampines Greenlace BTO project.

Both families applied under the Married Child Priority Scheme, and are now living close to their parents.

With the completion of some 26,000 new flats in 2015, I’m glad that many families like Mr and Mrs Tan and Mr Hilmi and Mdm Somaiah can look forward to welcoming the New Year in their new HDB homes.

In 2015, HDB launched some 15,000 new BTO flats.

The BTO application rate for first-timer families (applying for 3-room and bigger flats in non-mature estates) has stabilised to about 1.6 times. This means that most of these families would have been able to book their flats in their first attempt.

We are also on track for a soft-landing in the property market.

Resale prices have softened gradually to 2011 levels, and more than half of resale flats are now transacting close to their market value. This is a good outcome for both buyers and sellers.

The more stable market environment has enabled us to enhance our housing policies to benefit a broader spectrum of Singaporeans. These include new 2-room Flexi flats, higher income ceilings, and additional grants, like the new Proximity Housing Grant and the enhanced Special CPF Housing Grant.

We’ve had very good response to these new policies.

So for 2016, we are planning for a slightly higher BTO supply of about 18,000 flats.

These will be spread across a good variety of locations, so that homebuyers can be assured of flats for every budget and need.

While the 2016 flat supply will be increased to meet new demand from the recent policy changes, the broader plan remains to keep supply at a more sustainable level over the long-term.

Over the coming year, we will continue to monitor the market closely and adjust our building programme when necessary.

We will focus on making our housing policies more inclusive and build even better homes for all Singaporeans.

Here’s wishing all a Happy New Year!

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