Lease extension a complex issue, says Lawrence Wong

Amid calls for automatic lease extensions for older public flats, National Development Minister Lawrence Wong said that such policy measures will involve serious trade-offs and ramifications.

National Development Minister Lawrence Wong yesterday offered a word of caution on the issue of automatic lease extension for older HDB flats.

Addressing Parliament, he said: "It will be easy for me to give you a politically expedient answer now and try to wave away the problem. But there are serious trade-offs and ramifications to consider."

First, he said, it should not be assumed that this was what everyone wants. Second, much more maintenance is needed for older flats, and this would be costly for residents.

Third, despite Singapore's best efforts at planning, it was still severely constrained by space.

"If there is no more land to recycle for future public housing, then what will happen to our children and grandchildren? How will they have access to subsidised housing in the future?" he said.

Noting that it is a complex issue, he said: "The Government must grapple with these questions, study the matter and do the responsible thing."

Mr Wong also noted that the oldest Housing Board flat today is around 50 years, and most have more than 60 years remaining on their leases.

"So, this is not an immediate issue at all," he stressed. "We still have time to do this work."

The lease issue became a hot topic following a blog post by Mr Wong last year when he cautioned that not all old flats will be eligible for the Selective En-bloc Redevelopment Scheme, and those left out will be returned to the state when the 99-year lease matures.

Yesterday, he assured home owners there is still value in older flats, stressing that even for these flats, "CPF can still be used but under certain conditions to safeguard home buyers' retirement adequacy".

Meanwhile, he had two pieces of advice for would-be home owners: Don't buy or sell based on speculative information and do your homework carefully and choose something to fit your needs.

He also assured people that "the Government will continue to provide affordable and quality homes for all Singaporeans - both now and in the future".

Grace Leong

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 18, 2018, with the headline 'Lease extension a complex issue, says Lawrence Wong'. Print Edition | Subscribe