SINGAPORE - The Ministry of National Development (MND) is working towards the launch of its first assisted living pilot site for public housing at Bukit Batok next year, and is also exploring such retirement housing models for private residential sites.
This comes as more seniors are looking for alternative residential options like assisted living, National Development Minister Lawrence Wong said in Parliament on Thursday (March 7).
"Assisted living means 'home and care' combined, so that is why MND and Ministry of Health must come together to offer assisted living. It's not something one ministry can do.
"When you go for assisted living, you are not just buying a flat, but a package of care services tied to that assisted living flat. So it's not just the hardware, the flat plus services combine as one package. Typically, in such assisted living apartments, there will be more communal and shared spaces for residents to interact with each other... and the individual units will be smaller," Mr Wong said.
As the assisted living model is new, he said focus group discussions will be conducted to seek views on the proposed concept for assisted living in public housing.
"We will take in feedback and views from the discussions and ensure that seniors will welcome such an option, and the model will be sustainable for the service providers."
He added that similar retirement housing models for private residential sites are also being explored.
"We are studying potential sites to pilot these assisted living typologies which include, as suggested by Mr Murali Pillai (Bukit Batok), the option of converting vacant school sites into retirement homes.
"The key here is that when we put out these sites for private developers or private players to bid, we do not want it to be simply a property play. We do not want them to take the site, build something and sell the units. With assisted living, this has to be a package of services plus residential units combined.
"We will need to craft the appropriate rules and safeguards to ensure this happens. We are working on them and will provide details when we are ready," Mr Wong said.
Another key priority is to better meet the needs of Singapore's elderly in the coming years.
On monetisation and housing options available for seniors, Mr Wong said the Lease Buyback Scheme (LBS) is now available to all HDB flat owners, with the extension of LBS to five-room and larger flats.
He noted that the response has been positive. In the first two months of the year, 160 households from five-room and larger flats have applied for the LBS, he said.
"And I agree with Mr Alex Yam (Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC) that we have to do more to raise awareness of the scheme. That is why my MND colleagues and I, over the past few months, have been going around, constituency by constituency, reaching out to grassroots leaders and residents, to explain to them what are the schemes available. I think more seniors are aware of the LBS and various monetisation options today, but we will continue to do more to raise public awareness," he said.
Mr Wong cited the example of Mr Mohamed Salleh and Madam Normah, who have applied for LBS for their four-room flat.
"So they preferred to keep their flat, rather than move to a two-room flexi flat. On top of that, they have been living in the estate for the past 32 years and are familiar with the surroundings.
"With LBS, after keeping 25 years of their lease and selling the remainder to HDB, they were able to top up their respective CPF Retirement Accounts, which means they get a payout of about $950 per month for life. On top of that, they received the LBS bonus and cash proceeds of $110,000. It is an effective way for those who wish to monetise and unlock the value of their flats for retirement," he said.
But he added he also understood that LBS may not be an option suitable for everyone.
"Some may wish to right-size to a two-room flexi flat. The options are available.
"Member of Parliament Saktiandi Supaat (Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC) asked if MND can facilitate the sale of flats if seniors face difficulties, be it due to market sentiments or the Ethnic Integration Policy.
"We have discussed this before in this House. We recognise the concerns, and HDB will continue to do its best to assist, including by deferring key collection and giving them more time to sell."