SINGAPORE – For the first time in more than a decade, Madam Lee Ah Mui spent Chinese New Year in a home of her own, which she decorated with rabbit-themed festive stickers.
“I can finally invite family and friends over for the new year. When I was living in a rental flat, everything was too messy. Now, I can be proud of my own home as it’s renovated and more beautiful,” she said last Friday.
Madam Lee, 53, moved into a two-room Housing Board flexi flat in Punggol in January, after living for 12 years in a rental flat with her two sons. She bought the unit on a shorter lease of 50 years – paying about $122,000, including a resale levy – under the Fresh Start Housing Scheme.
The scheme made the purchase more affordable for the assistant infantcare teacher, who also received a housing grant of $35,000.
“It’s so comfortable and, when I turn on the air-con, it feels like I’m in a hotel room. I can even see the sea from my living room,” said Madam Lee.
HDB said more than 700 households who lived in public rental flats bought homes in 2022, with some tapping the scheme.
Over the past 10 years, more than 7,800 rental households have bought homes, while another 2,300 households have booked units and are waiting for them to be completed.
Of the more than 700 households, seven in 10 bought a flat from HDB, with the rest going for resale units. About two-thirds received grants, such as the Enhanced CPF Housing Grant of up to $80,000.
A majority bought a three- or four-room flat in a non-mature estate, and used a quarter or less of their monthly income to service their mortgage, HDB said.
Beginning with the February Build-To-Order sales exercise, rental households under the Fresh Start Housing Scheme can also buy three-room flats on a shorter lease, on top of the two-room flexi units that are currently offered.
The scheme was launched in 2016 to help families with at least one child below the age of 18 and that had previously bought a subsidised flat. To promote affordability, both the two- and three-room flexi flats will be offered with leases of 45 to 65 years in five-year increments, as long as the lease can cover the youngest applicant up to the age of 95, HDB said.
Flats sold under the scheme have a 20-year minimum occupation period to ensure a stable home for the families and children.
The Fresh Start Housing Grant was also increased from $35,000 to $50,000 from May 2022, with eligible families receiving $35,000 upfront in their Central Provident Fund (CPF) Ordinary Account when they collect their keys. The remaining $15,000 is disbursed into the account in equal tranches over the next five years.
As at December 2022, 95 families have been placed on the enhanced scheme. Of these, 44 have collected the keys to their flats, 48 are waiting to collect their keys, and three are waiting to book a flat.
Minister of State for National Development Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim said many families living in rental flats aspire to own a home and provide a better environment for their children.
“However, their circumstances – such as financial, family, health or employment issues – might make it challenging for them to do so,” he said.
“We hope to connect these residents with the Community Link programme, which can provide them with opportunities to achieve stability in family development, income and more.”
Dr Faishal said many rental flat tenants, especially those with children, are motivated to buy their own homes.
“Some of them also need a bigger space as their children grow older... Now that families will have the option to buy a three-room flat, it will be beneficial to those with bigger families, who need more space and a conducive environment,” he noted.
Madam Lee, who is divorced, said she had hoped to buy a three-room flat, which was not available when she was placed on the scheme in 2019. She is content with her current home, even though she has to share a bedroom with her two school-going sons, aged 19 and 24.
“At my rental place, high-rise littering was quite common and the public areas were not very clean. I’m glad I can give my sons a better environment now,” she said.
“They were so excited to chip in with their own ideas for the renovation. Almost everything is new, so it really feels like a fresh start.”
Madam Lee said she hopes her flat, which she has fully paid for, provides more stability for her children.
She added: “I don’t have to worry about rent increasing every two years any more. There’s more greenery and fresh air here – I just wish to live happily in my retirement home.”