Allow singles to apply for BTO flats from age 28 instead of 35: WP's Louis Chua

Currently, singles are allowed to apply for two-room flexi flats from age 35. ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

SINGAPORE - Workers' Party MP Louis Chua on Tuesday called for singles to be allowed to apply for a Build-To-Order (BTO) Housing Board flat from the age of 28, instead of 35 now.

In his adjournment motion, Mr Chua (Sengkang GRC) also suggested providing Central Provident Fund housing grants to singles on a tiered scale if the eligibility age is lowered to 28, where grants are set at a lower amount and increased by age up to 35.

Currently, singles are allowed to apply for two-room flexi flats from the age of 35.

He noted that singles below 35 years old who wish to have their own home can either buy a private property - which is significantly more expensive than public housing - or rent a flat in the open market, which they may be priced out of.

"While it is abundantly clear that many Singaporeans who may be single for various reasons before the age of 35 would like to have a place of their own, many simply cannot afford to do so," he said.

Mr Chua added that the rule has "serious implications" on the growing number of singles under 35, such as depriving them of the security of home ownership if they are priced out of the private and HDB rental market.

"More importantly, current policy signals to single Singaporeans that their marital status, whether by choice or due to factors beyond their control, is somehow viewed as undesirable and undeserving of Government support for home ownership," he said.

Addressing the point that families should be prioritised over singles, he said singles do not compete with young couples and families for the same flat types in non-mature estates, based on data from past BTO exercises.

In non-mature estates, young married couples tend to apply for three-room or larger BTO flats, while singles are limited to two-room flexi units, he noted.

"This shows that even without making any adjustments to the unit mix of various types of flats, lowering the minimum age threshold... is expected to have a minimal impact on young couples' likelihood of securing a flat," he added.

Mr Chua said that while housing policy should provide more support and incentives to young couples and families, it should not be viewed as mutually exclusive to expanding HDB options for singles.

As for the argument that singles owning HDB flats is in conflict with the Government's goals of encouraging marriage and family formation, Mr Chua said that when HDB options for singles were expanded in 1991 and 2013, marriage rates went up in the three years after.

"We accept that this could be a simple coincidence of timing... however, the data does suggest that we need not be too circumspect about expanding HDB options for singles as a factor that will single-handedly cause a further delay or decline in marriages," he said.

The Single Singapore Citizen Scheme was first introduced in October 1991, to allow singles aged 35 and above to buy three-room HDB resale flats in selected locations.

In 2013, singles aged 35 and above were allowed to buy new two-room flats directly from HDB.

Responding to Mr Chua, Senior Minister of State for National Development Tan Kiat How said the Government has expanded the range of housing options available to singles over the years.

The quota of two-room flexi flats set aside for first-time applicants, including singles, has been increased, he added.

In last month's BTO exercise, the number of non-senior two-room flexi flats set aside for first-timer singles in non-mature estates was raised, from 50 per cent to 65 per cent.

It was previously raised from 30 per cent to 50 per cent in 2015.

The Ministry of National Development will continue to engage Singaporeans on their housing needs and aspirations as part of the Forward Singapore exercise, Mr Tan said.

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