The Straits Times | Sunday, May 12, 2013

OUR SINGAPORE CONVERSATION

THE future of executive condominiums (ECs) took centre stage at an Our Singapore Conversation (OSC) session on Wednesday.

Around half of the 55 participants, who were mostly current or future Housing Board home owners, called for the scheme to be scrapped entirely. An equal number defended it.

But Senior Parliamentary Secretary for National Development Mohamad Maliki Osman said any housing policy change will have to take into account the fact that many Singaporeans are already home owners.

“We can’t view property void of the reality of hundreds of thousands of Singaporeans owning their own homes,” he said.

“How we manage the property market will have an impact on current home owners too, and we should not forget that.”

ECs have been in the news recently after National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan raised the issue that EC owners, who receive government subsidies, make a bigger profit in the resale market than the average flat owner.

One participant at the session said this was unfair. Another added that ECs widened the rich-poor divide by “helping the rich get richer”.

The EC scheme, which was launched in 1996, targets home buyers who cannot afford private property. Households whose incomes are below $10,000 can buy a Build-To-Order (BTO) flat. For ECs, the income ceiling is $12,000.

Property expert Chris Koh, a participant at Wednesday’s session, said an unintended consequence of ECs had been to push private property prices upwards.

“People started using ECs as benchmarks. So they would say, if an EC can sell at $800 psf, therefore my condo can sell at $1,000 psf,” said Mr Koh, director of Chris International.

He proposed keeping the EC scheme but removing the grant of up to $30,000 given to first-time buyers, or imposing levies on those upgrading from an HDB flat.

An equal number of participants, several of them EC owners, defended the scheme as a way to meet the aspirations of the “sandwiched class”.

EC owner Chiang Poh Yin, 28, said not all buyers are out to make a quick buck.

Her household income had been below $10,000 when she opted for an EC as the wait to move into one was shorter compared with that for a BTO flat, for which she applied five times but failed.

Other participants thought ECs were a good step towards owning a private condo, for those upgrading from their first home.

Participants were also evenly divided on the income ceiling that determines whether families are eligible to purchase HDB flats.

While several wanted it raised so as to keep pace with rising wages, others wanted to remove it entirely to give more Singaporeans a chance to live in HDB flats.

Dr Maliki said the dialogue showed people have diverse viewpoints over the housing policy: “We’re dealing with a policy situation to house 80 per cent of Singaporeans with different aspirations that have evolved over time.”

The next OSC session is on May 23 and will be on affordable housing.

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