SINGAPORE - It is "factually and legally wrong" to claim that Housing Board flat buyers do not own their flats and are merely renting them, said Minister of National Development Lawrence Wong.
That is because all buyers of leasehold properties - whether public or private - enjoy ownership rights over their properties during the period of the lease.
"They can also sell their properties and benefit from any upside, or rent it out if they choose to," he said at the Peak Forum for property industry professionals at HDB Hub on Tuesday (Sept 4).
He reiterated the Government's view that the concept of leasehold property is neither unique to Singapore or public housing. Since 1967, all government land sale sites for private residential parcels have been sold on leases not more than 99 years.
"We have limited space and we need to recycle land to create housing for future generations," he said.
Otherwise, Singapore runs the risk of being like some other cities where, because it is difficult to recycle the land, there is a land shortage and housing becomes "very expensive and unaffordable".
Mr Wong added that the Government welcomes all feedback and views on public housing, especially as the topic is one that Singaporeans care deeply about.
"But the debate must always be based on facts, not misinformation and half-truths," he said.
He did not name any commentators but The Straits Times had published a commentary on Aug 14 by International Property Advisor chief executive Ku Swee Yong, who recommended "that we be honest with ourselves and recognise that we are merely lessees who rent the HDB flats for their terms".
Ten days later, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong refuted the notion that the lease is "merely an extended rental" and not a sale.
On Tuesday, Mr Wong said there are other aspects of housing policies where people may have differing views and this is fine. This includes how best to integrate rented and sold flats in HDB blocks, how much subsidies to give or how to ensure fiscal sustainability.
“These are policy issues with difficult trade-offs to manage and we welcome diverse inputs so we can consider a diverse range (of solutions) to improve our housing policies,” he said.
At the forum, Mr Wong launched a new design guide to ensure distinct town identities over the years to come. He also gave about 400 participants a look at the first housing district for the upcoming forest town of Tengah, where the first tranche of flats will be launched in November.