Forum: Time to review how public housing can meet its own goals

I agree with the main points raised by Straits Times editor-at-large Han Fook Kwang in his article, "Why Government should stick to hands-off policy on HDB sellers' profits" (July 25).

In particular, I agree with his statement that it is the Government's job to build flats, and price them correctly.

He reinforced this by citing Second Minister for National Development Indranee Rajah, who wrote that the Housing Board's role is to make sure housing is affordable, accessible and inclusive (Striking a balance in building HDB flats in prime locations, June 10).

These are the more important and basic issues that need to be addressed.

Anecdotally, the waiting time for flats appears to have increased substantially compared with more than 40 years ago, when I applied for one. HDB should provide statistics on this.

Young people are encouraged to start families early, but they are unable to get an HDB flat within a reasonable time.

We must recognise that today's generation feels more compelled to live independent of one's parents.

The cost of HDB flats has been increasing to the point that it is challenging for young couples to make down payments without help from their parents.

A possible (bureaucratic) reaction to this is to say that young couples should then go for smaller flats or those in areas where there is lower demand.

But while young professionals do not expect to own the houses that their counterparts in developed countries do, they are loath to have to give up too much of their expected "quality of life".

The point on cost is also relevant to HDB's executive condominiums (ECs). The recent record high bid price for an EC plot sends alarming signals.

Invariably, the higher land cost will be passed on to buyers, who may belong to the "sandwiched" segment who do not qualify for regular HDB flats but find private properties unaffordable.

For some young couples, resale flats become the next best alternative because they want to go ahead with their marriage and cannot wait five or six years for a Build-To-Order flat.

Again, it has been reported that prices of resale flats have been climbing at an alarming rate. Young couples may have to take loans with interest payments making up such a high proportion of their disposable income that they would have to give up other wants or needs. This could become a major issue if interest rates rise.

All the points raised relate to one another. Housing is a basic need for everyone. The Government needs to be mindful of the implications of having young couples become discontented if these issues become worse.

It is time for the Government to take stock and start with a "blank sheet" on how public housing will meet its own goal of getting young people to marry earlier.

Gerard Tan Boon Heng

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