A new year for housing comes with a new Minister for National Development.
Mr Lawrence Wong, who took up the portfolio in October from Mr Khaw Boon Wan, inherited several schemes, including one to help rental families own a flat again, from his predecessor who ramped up the building of new flats, and made them more accessible to different segments of society.
But the new man at the helm has also indicated fresh directions for public housing, including a focus on older estates.
BIGGER SUPPLY OF FLATS
After being reduced the last two years, the supply of Build-to- Order (BTO) flats will be ramped up this year. From 2011 to 2013, the HDB ramped up supply to alleviate pent-up demand, with over 77,000 flats launched in those three years. But supply was gradually reduced.
The year ahead
• More new flats
• Fresh start for some families
• Sprucing up old estates
Still, policy changes last year, including higher income ceilings which increased the number of households that qualify for public housing, have caused demand to rise. In response, the HDB will supply about 18,000 units in 2016, up from 2015's 15,100.
But Mr Wong insists this does not signal a change in direction. "While we do this, I want to emphasise that we are still very mindful of making sure that we ensure a sustainable supply over the longer term," he said.
Among the new launches to look forward to this year will be a second set of flats in the centrally located estate of Bidadari. The 1,580 units will be offered in the year's first BTO launch next month.
The first Bidadari units went on sale in November and attracted strong demand, particularly for the larger units. There were 5.4 applicants for each four-roomer and 23.3 for each five-room flat.
In next month's launch, units will range from two- to five-rooms, and will also include the even larger Three-Generation flats for multi-generation families.
IMPROVING OLD TOWNS
Mr Wong has made it clear that sprucing up old towns is on his to-do-list as the new minister for housing.
In his first blog post after taking up the portfolio, he said: "Improving our HDB towns built in the 1970s and 1980s to meet changing needs will also be my focus."
This might mean more towns undergoing the HDB's Remaking Our Heartland programme, which brings new facilities - such as integrated complexes which combine transport, recreation and other uses - to both mature and non-mature estates. Last year, Toa Payoh, Woodlands and Pasir Ris were the third batch of towns to undergo the programme.
There could also be more projects under the Selective En- bloc Redevelopment Scheme (Sers), which tears down old blocks, relocates residents and redevelops the old site.
"I expect the Sers programme to be accelerated this year," said real estate firm Century21 chief executive officer Ku Swee Yong. Many old estates have reached an appropriate age for Sers, he added.
A FRESH START
One of the first policy announcements this year is likely to be details on the Fresh Start Housing Scheme, which aims to help second-timer rental flat tenants own a home again.
It targets "families with young children", but what this entails, along with other details, has yet to be revealed.
The National Development Ministry and the Housing Board have been gathering views on the scheme through dialogues with the public, and in a blog post last month, Mr Wong highlighted several of the suggestions that were made.
These include a Fresh Start Housing Grant - which may be disbursed in tranches and subjected to conditions. Two-room flexi flats on shorter leases, currently open only to the elderly, may be made available to families under the scheme.