Wider upgrading on horizon while Vers details are ironed out

The earliest that flats can go through a second round of upgrading is in around 10 years.
The earliest that flats can go through a second round of upgrading is in around 10 years.ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

Thorough study being done on how to implement scheme: Minister

Even as anticipation over the Voluntary Early Redevelopment Scheme (Vers) builds up, National Development Minister Lawrence Wong has urged patience about the details, noting that the more immediate policy to watch is an expanded upgrading programme.

As MPs sought more details about Vers, which lets owners of older HDB flats vote for the Government to buy back their units, Mr Wong said the road map for housing redevelopment includes more immediate initiatives such as an expanded upgrading programme.

While Vers was among the slew of new housing policies rolled out at last month's National Day Rally, "there are quite a number of major items that have to be put in place", with the more immediate one being the expanded Home Improvement Programme (HIP), he said in Parliament yesterday.

An ongoing programme, HIP I will be expanded to cover more HDB flats - those built between 1987 and 1997 - while a new HIP II scheme will see each flat upgraded a second time during its 99-year lease, when it is around 60 to 70 years old.

The earliest that flats can go through a second round of upgrading is in around 10 years.

HIP, which costs several billion dollars, will be a major HDB programme, "assuming we have the budget for it", said Mr Wong.

Meanwhile, Vers will kick in only in around two decades, when the first flats turn 70 years old or so.

 
 
 
 

"It is really quite a major series of initiatives and programmes that will have to be implemented, and we will do it step by step, systematically," he said.

Yesterday's Parliament sitting was the first time MPs had a chance to pose questions since the new programmes were announced by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong three weeks ago.

In total, five MPs sought details, including the extent of coverage of Vers and how compensation will be computed.

But Mr Wong said it is too early to say, as the ministry is still going through "a very thorough study" on how to implement the scheme.

Asked by Mr Alex Yam (Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC) when the results of the study would be shared, he said: "I wouldn't want to restrict or indicate now a specific deadline, but we have been looking at this issue for quite some time."

Mr Wong also assured the House that Vers would be rolled out "in a fiscally sustainable way, so that it does not become a burden for the next generation".

He added that while more flats would be eligible for Vers as compared with Sers, which is limited to precincts where there is high development value, not all would be chosen for Vers. Sers applies to about 5 per cent of HDB flats.

"For residents who do not get Vers for their flats, or who do not poll in favour of Vers, they will continue to live in their flats, which would have benefited from two rounds of upgrading," he said.

The Government would also help them get another flat to live in at the end of the 99-year lease.

This could be a new flat from HDB for those who are eligible, a resale flat with a shorter lease or a two-room flexi flat for retirement.

The Government is also looking at how to make the use of CPF funds more flexible so that buyers can purchase HDB flats with shorter leases while having enough to retire on, said Mr Wong.

"With CPF changes, it is not just about the policy, but updating the IT system," he said.

Of these plans that will span the next few decades, Mr Wong said: "Whether they come to pass depends on our external, economic and financial situation. But this Government has a track record of delivering on our commitments."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 11, 2018, with the headline 'Wider upgrading on horizon while Vers details are ironed out'. Print Edition | Subscribe