Govt looking into further prioritising BTO flats for those with more urgent housing needs: Desmond Lee

The classification of towns as mature and non-mature estates is also being reviewed to keep pace with the times. ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

SINGAPORE – How those with more urgent housing needs can be further prioritised in the allocation of new Build-To-Order (BTO) flats is an issue the Government is studying, said National Development Minister Desmond Lee.

They include specific segments within the first-timer group who need a flat more urgently, he added on Sunday at a dialogue with around 70 young working adults on Singaporeans’ housing needs.

The classification of towns as mature and non-mature estates is also being reviewed for possible adjustment to keep pace with the times, he added.

Addressing concerns about the availability of affordable public housing amid strong competition and high application rates, Mr Lee said the Housing Board has ramped up the supply of BTO flats in 2022, and is prepared to maintain the pace of launches up to 2025 if high demand continues.

The November BTO sales exercise will see HDB launch a bumper crop of nearly 10,000 flats across 10 projects, Mr Lee said at the dialogue held at the Lifelong Learning Institute. This will be the largest BTO exercise in at least two years.

At the dialogue, the last in a series of six on public housing, Mr Lee said most participants agreed that first-timers should be prioritised, while acknowledging there are varying degrees of urgency in housing needs within this group. 

For instance, most agreed that first-timers who already have children but do not own a home should be prioritised ahead of existing home owners, he noted. Most also agreed that lower-income families should be given more priority as they have fewer options in the open market, while others noted that seniors and singles also have genuine needs.

“We are studying how we can further prioritise access to public housing for those with more urgent housing needs, even within the first-timer group,” he said.

“But it is not easy to reach a consensus on how we define whose needs are more urgent, as evident from the direct tensions observed from the suggestions we have received.” 

As to whether public housing remains accessible to young adults, Mr Lee said the bulk of BTO flats was set aside for first-timers. In August, the allocation quota for first-timer families in non-mature estates was increased from 85 per cent to 95 per cent for four-room and larger BTO flats, and from 70 per cent to 85 per cent for three-room flats.

But some first-timers still encounter unsuccessful ballots, largely because they are applying to mature estates or for Sale of Balance Flats where the application rates are very high, said Mr Lee.

HDB has been launching more projects in mature estates, and various schemes such as the Married Child Priority Scheme improve the odds for those who qualify, but demand may still outstrip supply in very popular areas, he said.

The preference for flats in mature estates could also have stemmed from past belief that they have better amenities and transport links, but such lines blur and distinctions become less relevant as non-mature estates come of age, he added.

He cited Sengkang and Jurong East – two towns currently classified as non-mature estates – as having amenities comparable to those in mature estates.

The Ministry of National Development previously said that availability of land in each town is used in the mature and non-mature classification, although it did not give more details. Buyers often use the classification to form a top-line impression of what to expect in terms of pricing and the area’s amenities, said experts.

Mr Lee said: “We are currently reviewing whether our estate classification should be adjusted to keep pace with the times, and if so, how. For now, if you want to boost your chances of success, I hope couples can be open to consider a BTO flat in a non-mature estate or projects with lower application rates.”

During the session, participants broke up into groups and discussed different perspectives on home buyers’ needs and wants. The majority of the points raised included priority to be given to first-timers and the need for more space. 

Mr Lee said suggestions raised across the dialogues have been very useful and that the Government is studying them. “There are no easy answers, and we will benefit from having more minds put to these issues.”

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