Government 'considering' lease buyback for bigger HDB flats

National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan (standing, in blue shirt) chatting to grassroots leaders at the post-Budget dialogue at Fuchun Community Club yesterday. -- PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO
National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan (standing, in blue shirt) chatting to grassroots leaders at the post-Budget dialogue at Fuchun Community Club yesterday. -- PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

Seniors living in bigger Housing Board flats may soon have the option of converting a part of the lease on their flat into cash, to allow them to age in place.

This is after National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan said yesterday that the Government is considering expanding the criteria for the lease buyback scheme which is currently only for those living in three-room and smaller flats.

He was responding to questions from reporters, on the sidelines of a post-Budget forum.

Although the scheme has not been very popular, Mr Khaw said it provides more options for seniors, and that he had received many requests for four-room and five-room flats to be allowed too. "I do not regard the low take-up rate as a failure. I would just say that what it means is, people are not financially desperate to need to take advantage of those options."

He added: "The options are there for those who need it. But that doesn't mean that we will stop at three-room flats. We can always consider."

The lease buyback scheme, introduced in 2009 and enhanced last year, lets home owners sell part of their lease back to the Government for cash, but this is only for three-room and smaller flats currently.

Some 240 seniors tapped the scheme last year after the rules were relaxed, up from 471 in total between 2009 and 2012.

Mr Khaw also downplayed expectations of a big housing announcement during the Budget debate which starts next week.

"I don't expect major movements for housing... because we have made a lot of big moves during the last two years because that was necessary and urgent," he said. But he added that he is looking at helping divorcees and single parents.

Government Parliamentary Committee for National Development and Environment chairman Lee Bee Wah supports expanding the lease buyback scheme but does not expect it to be popular. This is because most seniors prefer to sell their flats and buy a HDB studio apartment in the same estate.

"Singaporeans prefer to see the cash upfront (after selling the flat)," she said.

tohyc@sph.com.sg