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More can be done to help housing needs of some groups
By Olivia Siong
SINGAPORE: With the Housing and Development Board's (HDB) three-year ramped-up building programme, property experts said the housing needs of first-time homebuyers have been largely addressed.
So the government could look into providing more help for other groups of Singaporeans in 2014.
These include upgraders, singles, divorcees with children and the elderly.
More than 25,000 new HDB flats were launched in 2013.
Rounding up a record 77,000 Build-To-Order (BTO) flats released over the last three years, the government said this ramped-up supply has helped to restore stability in the housing market.
In 2010, there were 5.3 homebuyers vying for each new HDB flat. But in 2013, there were 2.9 applicants for each flat.
For first-time homebuyers, the average is less than two applicants per flat.
Lee Bee Wah, Government Parliamentary Committee chairman for National Development, said: "Before 2006, I used to see residents coming to my MPs asking for help in their application for new BTO flats -- almost for every application. Now I seldom see them anymore, perhaps once in a while, some very particular cases, so we have cleared the backlog."
Application rates for second-time homebuyers have also gone down from about 26 applicants per flat in 2011 to around just two applicants for each new flat in 2013.
But analysts said more can be done to address the aspirations of those hoping to upgrade.
Nicholas Mak, executive director of SLP International Property Consultants, said: "In 2013, the government's allocation ratio for BTO flats has been skewed towards allocating more flats to first-time homebuyers.
“Since the demand from first time homebuyers has gradually been met, now the government can actually skew, or readjust the allocation ratio to allocate more flats to HDB upgraders, from the current 30 per cent to perhaps an even higher ratio."
Colin Tan, director and head of research and consultancy at Suntec Real Estate, said: "There's still a very strong demand to move out of HDB public housing, and so executive condos (ECs) are one area.
“In the latest land sales, I think more of the supply now is towards ECs. So I think they recognise the fact that there is still demand for affordable private housing, whether they go through the back door, through ECs. We must realise these housing aspirations have been kept under wraps for some time."
This year also marked the first time that singles were able to buy a flat directly from the HDB, with its three launches meeting strong demand.
Singles are only allowed to buy two-room flats located in non-mature estates.
The government has said it will build more two-room flats for singles in the coming year, while scaling back on bigger flats.
This is also part of the government's tapering of supply in 2014. But some property analysts said with the demand from families more settled, the government could also consider allowing singles to buy bigger flats.
Mr Mak said: "There is a desire among some singles to buy larger room flats. They can relax this regulation to allow singles to buy three-room flats because previously they were not allowed to buy these types of flats for fear that they would crowd out the demand from families."
But looking ahead, some said there are still other groups that need help, like divorcees with children.
Dr Lee said: “Main thing is let them (divorcees) own an HDB flat as soon as possible, remove the minimum period that they have to wait, let them settle down quickly.
“To go through divorce, the process is already very stressful and we should try to help them settle down quickly, to give them a roof over their heads. Without a flat, they have difficulties in finding the nearest school (for their children), or where to work. I think it's good to help this group of divorcees with children.”
Though in the even longer term, some property analysts added that it would be timely for plans to be made to address Singapore's ageing population.
Mr Tan said: "I'm suggesting that HDB take a comprehensive approach, rather than just simply building studio apartments.
“The future elderly, they're probably more educated, they're probably still more active and maybe quite a number of them may be singles. So something along the lines of private housing equivalent of retirement housing, such that they will have amenities, medical care right at their doorstep, and maybe clubs that facilitate the participation of our seniors."
28,741 public housing units are expected to be completed in 2014 alone. --- CNA/gn
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