MP Louis Chua repeats Workers' Party call to lower minimum age to 28 for singles buying BTO flats
SINGAPORE — A Workers' Party (WP) Member of Parliament (MP) made another call to lower the minimum age from 35 to 28 for singles who want to buy Build-To-Order (BTO) flats, so that the Housing and Development Board (HDB) can advance its aim of making public housing "reflect the diversity of our society".
- Workers' Party Member of Parliament Louis Chua called for the minimum age for singles to buy Build-To-Order flats to be lowered
- He also urged "urgent and decisive" steps to address the demand-supply inbalance of public housing
- Mr Tan Kiat How, Senior Minister of State for National Development, said that the range of housing options for singles has been expanded over the years
- A property analyst said Mr Chua’s proposal was something the Government can seriously consider, so long as there are safeguards to prevent excessive speculation
SINGAPORE — A Workers' Party (WP) Member of Parliament (MP) reiterated his party's call to lower the minimum age from 35 to 28 for singles who want to buy Build-To-Order (BTO) flats, so that the Housing and Development Board (HDB) can advance its aim of making public housing "reflect the diversity of our society".
In response, Mr Tan Kiat How, Senior Minister of State for National Development, noted that the Government has, over the years, expanded the range of housing options available to singles aged 35 and up, adding that a "vibrant" rental and co-living market is available for younger singles who desire their own space to live.
Mr Louis Chua, MP for Sengkang Group Representative Constituency, suggested that the Government could tier its housing grants by age such that a 28-year-old gets a portion of it, and the grant increases each year until the applicant is 35 years old and receives the full amount.
“As elected Members of Parliament, we are given a mandate from and by the people we serve,” the opposition MP said in a speech at the end of the parliamentary session on Tuesday (Sept 13).
“We therefore must lend a listening ear to the generation ahead of us and ensure that our public housing policies are both inclusive and reflective of the diversity of our society.”
The call to lower the minimum age for singles was earlier proposed by the WP in its party manifesto during the 2020 General Elections. In March this year, party chief Pritam Singh, who is Leader of the Opposition, renewed that call during the Committee of Supply debate.
Mr Chua noted that the original rationale for excluding singles from owning government-built flats was to prioritise them for families and that home ownership by singles was “supposedly” inconsistent with the Government’s social policy of encouraging marriage.
Then, a change in policy in 1991 allowed singles aged 35 and older to buy resale flats, limited to three-room flats in selected locations. Rules were relaxed further over the years, especially in 2013 when singles aged 35 and older were allowed to buy new, subsidised two-room flats in non-mature estates directly from HDB.
Mr Chua said this showed that the Government can be responsive to the changing demographics in society, noting that National Development Minister Desmond Lee had last year acknowledged that the Government recognises the desire of Singaporeans to own a home while they are single.
However, for singles below the age of 35, not much has changed in those three decades except for those with special circumstances such as single parents, Mr Chua said, adding that this has serious implications on the growing number of singles under 35 who are priced out of the private market and HDB rental market.
Median rental charges for three-room HDB flats run at about S$2,000 a month, which is essentially the entire take-home salary of a polytechnic graduate today, he said.
On the other hand, owning a two-room flexi flat in non-mature towns such as those in the latest BTO launch would cost only S$400 a month in repayment over a 25-year loan period.
“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.”
HDB’s two-room flexi flats cater primarily to senior citizens but are also open to singles or families buying flats for the first or second time, subject to qualifying criteria.
In his speech, Mr Chua also said that a key argument for limiting singles from buying HDB flats is that land in Singapore is scarce.
To that, he quoted Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s comments during his National Day Rally last month when Mr Lee said that the Government has done its studies and that Singapore will have space to build enough flats for future generations.
Citing data from past BTO exercises, which showed that young married couples overwhelmingly apply for three-room or larger flats more than two-room flexi BTO flats, Mr Chua said that lowering the minimum age for singles will have minimal impact on young couples’ chances of getting a flat.
Mr Chua refuted another argument that allowing younger singles to own HDB flats is in conflict with the Government’s goals of encouraging marriage and family formation.
He noted that during the key changes in housing policy for singles in 1991 and 2013, marriage rates for both males and females in the 35 to 39 age group had gone up instead of falling.
Acknowledging that this could be a simple coincidence, he said that the data does suggest that Singapore need not be too circumspect about the concern that expanding public housing options for singles will singlehandedly cause a further delay or decline in marriages.
FOCUS ON PUBLIC HOUSING SUPPLY
A more pressing issue is the lack of housing supply, Mr Chua said as he urged the Government to take "urgent and decisive" steps to raise the availability of public housing.
He noted that the average of 20,000 BTO flats estimated to launch each year between 2021 and 2025 will be more than the average of 17,000 flats between 2016 and 2020.
Yet, this will still be fewer than the average of 23,000 flats launched a year between 2011 and 2015, during the time when then-National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan sought to address a backlog in HDB flats.
BTO application rates have climbed steadily over the past decade to new highs despite a ramp-up in supply this year, which suggests that the demand-supply imbalance is of critical concern, Mr Chua said.
Although he acknowledged that the WP’s proposal on lowering the BTO eligibility age for singles could increase the demand for two-room flexi flats, it does not detract from the serious imbalances in the housing market that have spilled over into the resale market.
OPTIONS FOR SINGLES HAVE EXPANDED
Mr Tan, in his reply, highlighted the steps that the Government has taken to expand the range of housing options available to singles.
In 2015, the allocation quota for new two-room flats in non-mature estates was raised from 30 to 50 per cent for non-seniors.
From the latest August 2022 BTO exercise onwards, the non-senior quota was raised further from 50 to 65 per cent.
Eligible first-timer singles can also qualify for various housing grants of up to S$40,000 for a new flat and S$80,000 for a resale flat, Mr Tan added.
He said that there remains a "fairly strong" increase in housing demand across all groups, including singles.
Mr Tan added that the Government has observed a trend of more singles, youth and young couples renting homes.
The rental market also has a large variety of public and private options available, including the increasingly popular co-living or shared housing arrangements.
“I think this shows that the market is functioning and responding agilely to consumer demand and preferences... We will continue to review developments holistically and comprehensively and assess if there would be ways to work with the private actors to meet this demand,” Mr Tan said.
The Ministry of National Development will engage Singaporeans on their housing needs and aspirations as part of the Forward Singapore public consultation exercise, Mr Tan added, urging people to actively take part in that.
LOWERING AGE COULD ATTRACT SPECULATORS
Property analyst Nicholas Mak said that lowering the minimum age for singles to buy a BTO flat could drive a surge in demand that would make it harder for seniors to buy a two-room flexi flat.
Mr Mak, head of research and consultancy at ERA Realty Network, took note of news reports that suggested a growing number of young singles are moving out to live on their own. He said that if young people are choosing to pay more than S$1,000 a month on rent, that money can instead be used to pay the mortgage on a BTO flat that can potentially be sold at a profit.
If the Government were to lower the minimum age to 28, it could prevent speculative buying from those aged 28 to 35 by, for example, restricting them to only selling the flat back to HDB instead of the resale market after the minimum occupancy period.
Still, Mr Mak noted that the application rate for two-room flexi flats is generally low.
He proposed that the Government conduct studies and involve focus groups to predict the social implications of lowering the minimum BTO eligibility rate for singles, if it were to take up Mr Chua’s proposal.
“Putting myself in the shoes of someone in their late 20s or early 30s, having your own flat means you can easily invite friends home, it could also help people to socialise more or to date someone, who knows?”
He added: “If lowering the minimum age does not deter people from getting married, I guess that is something the Government can seriously consider.”
Related topicsBTO HDB singles housing property WP Louis Chua
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