Lower-income families will get more help to have own homes

The Ministry of National Development unveiled an unprecedented slew of measures to uplift lower-income families in parliament on March 7, 2019.
The Ministry of National Development unveiled an unprecedented slew of measures to uplift lower-income families in parliament on March 7, 2019. PHOTO: ST FILE

Lower-income families will receive a lot more help in their home ownership journey, from getting grants to buy resale flats to a team of officers dedicated to monitoring their progress. In all, six MPs asked about ways to help this group, and yesterday, the Ministry of National Development unveiled an unprecedented slew of measures to uplift them.

ENHANCED GRANTS

Families who used to own their own HDB homes but are now living in rental flats will be entitled to the Step-Up CPF Housing Grant from May.

Before its expansion, the grant of $15,000 was for lower-income families to buy new three-room homes, but only if they already owned two-room flats.

With the change, families can also buy resale flats - not just Build-To-Order units - as long as they are in non-mature estates.

Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong, who made the announcement in Parliament yesterday, said the grant was expanded "because we want to do more to help these families move back to home ownership". He added that the number of families in rental flats who buy their own homes has nearly doubled in the last five years, from 700 in 2014 to 1,300 last year.

Some MPs, however, noted that the total number is relatively small: About 5,000 such families out of a total of 56,000 in the last six years.

CHANGES TO FRESH START SCHEME

Several improvements are being made to the 2016 Fresh Start Housing Scheme to help families with young children in rental flats buy a second HDB flat of their own.

Since December 2016, 74 families have joined the scheme.

 
 
 
 

This includes the setting up of an intensified support programme to help Fresh Start families stay on course in their journey to home ownership. A service provider appointed by the Ministry of Social and Family Development will run it.

"We have found through our experience that closer and more regular contact with families allows for early intervention to address issues that may emerge," said Senior Parliamentary Secretary Sun Xueling.

The programme is in addition to a new HDB team dedicated to spot and reach out to rental families who may be eligible to buy a home.

Another change is that "special consideration" will be given to selected families - who applied for Fresh Start but did not meet some of the criteria - to join. This would benefit about 80 families in the next three years, she said.

Also, to qualify for Fresh Start, the age limit requiring a family to have at least one child below age 16 will be raised to 18. Ms Sun did not say how many will benefit.

The new age limit will be applied as well to the Parenthood Priority Scheme and the Assistance Scheme for Second-Timers (Divorced/Widowed Parents).

RENTS TO STAY THE SAME

The Housing Board will not raise rents for families who have made down payments and signed the leases to buy a home.

Typically, rents are reviewed every two years, and are tiered according to household income. "We hope this will put households in good stead for their next milestone as home owners," Ms Sun said.

RENTAL FLATS TO BE SPRUCED UP

The HDB will improve airflow and brightness of rental blocks built in the 1960s and 1970s, which typically have long central corridors with flats on both sides.

Also, tenants who share one-room rental flats, under the Joint Singles Scheme (JSS), will get greater privacy with the introduction of partitions.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 08, 2019, with the headline 'Lower-income families will get more help to have own homes'. Print Edition | Subscribe