Mixed reactions to helping families live close together

HDB flats as seen from Mount Faber (left). Mr Khaw (right) has mooted giving "absolute priority" to those applying for BTO flats in the same area as their parents but some worry they will want the flat just for its premium location.
HDB flats as seen from Mount Faber (left). Mr Khaw (right) has mooted giving "absolute priority" to those applying for BTO flats in the same area as their parents but some worry they will want the flat just for its premium location.ST FILE PHOTOS
HDB flats as seen from Mount Faber (left). Mr Khaw (right) has mooted giving "absolute priority" to those applying for BTO flats in the same area as their parents but some worry they will want the flat just for its premium location.
HDB flats as seen from Mount Faber (left). Mr Khaw (right) has mooted giving "absolute priority" to those applying for BTO flats in the same area as their parents but some worry they will want the flat just for its premium location.ST FILE PHOTOS

Industry players, buyers in favour of idea but fear system may be abused

In an effort to strengthen family bonds, National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan suggested measures to help more Singaporeans live with or near their parents - but they have drawn mixed reactions from property analysts, agents and buyers.

His most controversial suggestion was giving "absolute priority" to those applying for Build-To-Order (BTO) flats in the same estate as their parents - which would do away with balloting for these applicants.

While many were in favour of families living close together, some argued proximity to one's parents should not trump other reasons for getting a flat, such as being near schools or workplaces.

Others believe that such a priority system might be abused.

"It is not very fair to those whose parents do not currently reside in mature estates, especially the popular mature estates such as Tiong Bahru, Queenstown..." said OrangeTee's research head Christine Li. "It could even lead to unnecessary over-consumption by those who do not need public housing, but just want the flat due to the premium location."

Key executive officer of Horizon Real Estates Lena Low agreed: "Of course it'll be abused. It's giving too much priority to being close to parents. Others will have no chance to live in these areas."

Ms He Qing Pei, 24, who is searching for a flat with her 27-year-old boyfriend, said: "Proximity to parents is a factor when choosing a flat but not the most important factor for me."

The management trainee lives with her parents in Boon Lay, but wants a home in a central location like Toa Payoh. "It's unfair if they make it the top priority and diminish other people's chances."

In a blog post on Sunday, Mr Khaw floated ideas to encourage more Singaporeans to live with or near their parents. He noted how a Housing Board survey showed the proportion of young couples living with or near their parents rose from 31 per cent in 2003 to 37 per cent last year, but still fell short of the 50 per cent who expressed a desire to be near their parents. However, he cautioned against an "alumni effect", shutting out young couples whose parents do not reside in the estate they want to live in.

To get around this, ERA Realty key executive officer Eugene Lim suggests increasing the minimum occupancy period before new owners can sell their units from five years to at least eight years to ensure commitment to the flat and prevent abuse of the system.

Mr Khaw also suggested encouraging parents to live in non-mature estates near their married children, but some feel it would be an "uphill" task.

"Old folk have their social networks and might be less adaptable," said Mr Colin Tan, director of research and consultancy at Suntec Real Estate Consultants.

Other ideas floated by Mr Khaw, such as larger housing grants and building more three-generation flats, were deemed more feasible options.

"Currently some people don't find it so affordable to live near their parents," said Mr Tan. "There are cheaper BTOs out there compared to the more expensive resale flats near their parents. An increase in grants would compensate and help them..."

Indeed, Mr Khaw had suggested providing an even higher Central Provident Fund Housing Grant to eligible first-timers who buy an HDB resale flat with or in the same estate as their parents. Currently, those who opt to live with their parents or in the same estate get an extra $10,000 on top of the $30,000 grant for families.

Mr Lim felt there would be good demand for three-generation flats, especially among second-time buyers with children.

But Mr Tan had doubts: "You often hear of in-laws quarrelling. Some people need more personal space. It should be an option but not aggressively promoted."

yeosamjo@sph.com.sg