By Hetty Musfirah | Posted: 08 March 2013 1908 hrs

SINGAPORE

A scheme that gives priority allocation for new HDB flats to first-timer married couples with a citizen child below the age of 16, will be extended to pregnant mothers from May this year.

The Parenthood Priority Scheme will also be extended to couples who are married but without children, sometime next year.

National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan, who announced the new housing measures in Parliament on Friday, said supply will also be ramped up with 25,000 new flats to be launched this year – 2,000 more than previously announced.

Separately, the scheme to provide temporary housing for first-timer married couples with children below 16 years old, while they wait for the completion of their new HDB flats, will be extended to include married HDB first-timers without children.

Mr Khaw said the Parenthood Provisional Housing Scheme has so far attracted some 200 applications.

Another change is to allow singles to buy new HDB flats.

Those aged 35 and above who are buying flats for the first time will be able to buy 2-room BTO flats.

Mr Khaw said these will be for singles earning up to $5,000 as they face more financial difficulty owning a home.

He said the Ministry is still finalising details but aims to let the first batch of eligible singles apply in the July Build-to-Order launch.

Mr Khaw said: “These new flats will be built in non-mature estates in order to keep the prices down. They will come in two sizes – 35 square metres and 45 square metres. And we leave it to them to choose according to their needs and budget.

“A couple of other important details are still being finalised. For example, how much should we subsidise the flats, as compared to married couples? What should the relative priority be between singles and married couples applying for these flats?

“We will settle these outstanding issues as quickly as we can, so that the first batch of eligible singles can apply in the July BTO launch.”

Currently, singles aged 35 and above, can only buy HDB flats from the resale market.

Mr Khaw said about 4,000 do so each year.

He said rising resale prices have made it more difficult for singles to buy a flat.

The needs of those who are buying a flat for a second time will also be addressed.

The second-timer quota for 2- and 3-room flats in non-mature estates will be doubled to 30 per cent.

Mr Khaw said the move will help second-timers who need to downgrade.

Out of the 30 percent quota, five per cent will be reserved for divorcees or widowers with children below the age of 16.

Mr Khaw said this will almost guarantee their ability to select a 2-room flat, and significantly increase the chances of those who apply for a 3-room flat.

The changes will be implemented from the May BTO launch.

The debarment period for divorcees to apply for a subsidised flat will also be shortened from five to three years.

Mr Khaw said this will help divorcees move on with their lives, especially those with children.

A new Studio Apartment Priority Scheme will be introduced for seniors from the May BTO exercise.

50 percent of the supply of studio apartments will be reserved for seniors who apply for one, near their current home or near where their married children live.

The new scheme will replace the current Ageing-in-Place Priority and the Married Child Priority Scheme which award priority through giving the seniors more ballot chances.

Mr Khaw said: “Many multi-generational families prefer to live together or close to one another. Last year, we introduced the Multi-Generation Priority Scheme to allow them to apply for the same BTO project with a view to live close by. More than 60 pairs of families have benefited from it, not that many.

“Dr Lee Bee Wah (MP for Nee Soon GRC) suggested that we go further to build some multi-generational flats, say with four bedrooms, to help such families live in the same flat. She advanced strong arguments on how such families could better support, especially the newlyweds, both financially as well as transmitting important cultural values.

“I believe there is some demand but we do not know how big it is. Anyway, I have asked HDB to consider doing so in some BTO developments, to test out their demand.”

Mr Khaw also agreed with MP for West Coast GRC Foo Mee Har that many senior citizens have significant assets in their houses.

He said: “This is a good thing, as it opens up opportunities for them to get some retirement income, for example, by subletting their flats or rooms. This year, we have increased their options by implementing the new Silver Housing Bonus (SHB) scheme to facilitate right-sizing, and the Enhanced Lease Buyback Scheme (LBS) to support ageing-in-place.

“But many may still not be aware of the schemes or they may not have accurate information. We will step up public outreach and financial counselling to those who may benefit from these options.”

Separately, the Ministry is also planning to introduce a cap on the number of foreigner tenants in HDB blocks.

MP for West Coast GRC Foo Mee Har had suggested a 10 per cent cap for each block, to prevent the growth of foreigner enclaves.

Mr Khaw agreed that there should be a cap, but said some analysis will need to be done to see if 10 per cent is appropriate.

And while implementation details are being sorted out, the HDB will reduce the maximum approved period for subletting of HDB flats and room to non-Malaysian and non-citizen subtenants, from three to 1.5 years.

Mr Khaw said the changes will not apply to Malaysian tenants as they face fewer integration challenges.

He said the public housing system needs to evolve with the times and a relook is necessary in the light of significant demographic and economic changes.

He said more will be done to reduce BTO flat prices relative to incomes, and to reduce the financial burden of housing on the young.

Mr Khaw said: “We have stopped BTO prices from rising by delinking them from resale prices. We can now pause and see what else we can do to bring BTO prices in non-mature estates to, say, around four years of salary as it was before the current property cycle started.

“We will do so partly through cooling measures to nudge the property market down; partly by seeing if an alternative housing option can be designed.

“One thing is clear. We are committed to restoring and maintaining the affordability of new HDB flats to the vast majority of first-timer Singaporean households. Their Singapore Dream of owning their own flats, like their parents’, is safe. We will make sure of that.”

There also has to be more options to help elderly Singaporeans unlock and monetise their HDB flats.

In the months ahead, the Ministry will initiate public discussions on housing policies to take in diverse views and to shape future housing policies.

– CNA/de