More take up Housing Board's Lease Buyback Scheme

Choy Mui Leng, 66, (left) and her husband Chow Futt Yeow, 77, consider themselves lucky as they qualified for the Silver Housing Bonus when they bought a three-room BTO flat in Punggol. -- ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH
Choy Mui Leng, 66, (left) and her husband Chow Futt Yeow, 77, consider themselves lucky as they qualified for the Silver Housing Bonus when they bought a three-room BTO flat in Punggol. -- ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH

Higher number of seniors used scheme last year after rules were relaxed

The number of seniors taking up the Housing Board's Lease Buyback Scheme went up last year to 240, after rules were relaxed so more flat owners aged 63 and above could qualify.

That is up from a total of 471 households over the four years from 2009 - when the scheme was launched - to January last year, said HDB.

It did not give a yearly breakdown of the scheme's take-up before the enhancement.

The Lease Buyback Scheme, which helps seniors age in place, is one of several HDB schemes that help retirees monetise their housing assets should they find themselves asset-rich but cash-poor.

The Silver Housing Bonus scheme launched last February has got off to a slower start, with 62 households having taken it up. Under this scheme, a senior who downgrades to a smaller flat receives a government grant of up to $20,000 per household, if he tops up his Central Provident Fund (CPF) retirement account with the sales proceeds.

More popular by far is HDB's subletting scheme. About one in 10 HDB owners above 55 either sublets a room or the entire flat for income, HDB said.

Retirees' worries about being asset-rich but cash-poor resurfaced late last year during a ministerial dialogue in Joo Chiat.

But some like 68-year-old Mr Tan, a single who asked that his full name not be published, have found a solution to their woes in HDB's schemes.

The retired senior clerk lost the bulk of his $300,000 savings by betting heavily on Toto. Last year, he sold his three-room flat back to HDB under the Lease Buyback Scheme for about $360,000. He then paid HDB $222,900 for a 30-year lease on the flat, so he could continue to live in it.

About $120,000 of the net proceeds have gone into his CPF Retirement Account, and he receives a monthly payout of $731. He also received a $20,000 bonus in cash.

"At first, I wanted to sell my flat on the open market. But I've lived here for more than 30 years and am very used to the environment," said Mr Tan, who bought his Toa Payoh flat for $45,000 in 1982. "I have no one to leave this flat to, so for singles like me, the scheme lets me make the best of the current situation."

Last year, the scheme was enhanced to allow seniors who have previously received more than one housing subsidy and previous owners of private property to qualify. HDB said there are about 42,000 two-room and three-room flat owners who are eligible.

Government Parliamentary Committee for National Development and Environment chairman Lee Bee Wah said some seniors still worry about outliving the 30-year lease on their homes.

HDB said that in those cases, a lease extension would be offered. "Appropriate housing arrangements will be provided to those who are unable to pay for the lease extension on a case-by-case basis," it added.

As for the Silver Housing Bonus, retired nurse Choy Mui Leng, 66, considers herself one of its "lucky" recipients. She sold her Seletar Hills bungalow in 2009 after her two sons moved out, and bought a four-room resale flat in Sengkang. She sold this flat later, to buy a three-room Build-To-Order (BTO) flat in Punggol.

"I was lucky because when we sold the flat, we were retirees and it was the first time buying a BTO, and we also qualified for the bonus," she said.

Ms Lee has noticed more retirees downgrading to smaller flats over the last two years, a trend she hopes will continue. "Previously, people buy one house and stay in it their whole lives. But now, I see quite a lot of residents buying housing that suits their needs... Looking forward, I think perhaps what Singaporeans can do is not to over-consume on housing. When you're younger and have a family that is expanding, you need a bigger house. Later, when the kids have moved out, you can move to a smaller place."