Faster sale of balance HDB flats, unwed parents allowed to buy more flat types: Lawrence Wong
By Janice Lim
There have been feedback and requests for the Re-Offer of Balance Flats exercises to be done more regularly instead of just twice a year. This exercise will be removed so that potential flat buyers need not go through another round of balloting.
SINGAPORE — Property hunters looking to get a flat in public housing estates may be able to get their homes faster, as the Housing and Development Board (HDB) is discontinuing its Re-Offer of Balance Flats exercise.
This means that flats that are not selected by buyers during the Sale of Balance Flats (SBF) exercises will be offered directly for open booking, instead of being pooled and released again for sale through the Re-Offer of Balance Flats, the Ministry of National Development and HDB said on Wednesday (March 4).
Speaking during the debate in Parliament on the ministry’s budget, Mr Lawrence Wong said: “The unselected SBF units will be pooled and offered directly for open booking right away, without going through another round of balloting. This will enable home-seekers with urgent needs to access flats more quickly.”
This announcement was made along with several other policy changes, which include:
1. Housing for unwed parents
Change: Unwed Singaporean aged 21 and above who are in stable employment and can afford to buy a flat will be able to buy from HDB a new two-room or three-room apartment in a non-mature public housing estate.
Before: They are only allowed to buy a two-room flat on a case-by-case basis.
Status Quo: Unwed parents who are 35 years old and above can already buy a two-room “flexi” flat in non-mature estates or a resale flat, if eligible, and they can continue to do so.
Those who cannot afford to buy any flat will be considered for a public rental flat.
2. Silver Housing Bonus
Change: Singaporeans aged 55 and above who downsize from a larger to smaller HDB flat will get 50 per cent more in cash when they top up their Retirement Account in the Central Provident Fund with the proceeds from the sale.
This means that the previous S$20,000 bonus for those who sell their three-room flat will now get S$30,000.
This group of homeowners will also need to top up S$60,000 of their housing sales proceeds to their CPF Retirement Account. They do not need to make any more top-ups after that, and the requirement that they must be selling a larger flat will be removed.
Before: Singaporeans aged 55 and above get a smaller cash payout when they downsize and the amount they need to top up in their CPF Retirement Account depends on the amount of their sale proceeds.
3. Lease Buyback Scheme
Change: Owners of three-room or smaller flats, four-room flats, and five-room or larger flats can get a maximum cash bonus of S$30,000, S$15,000 and S$7,500 respectively.
Before: Owners of three-room or smaller flats, four-room flats, and five-room or larger flats can get a maximum cash bonus of S$20,000, S$10,000, and S$5,000 per household respectively.
Under the scheme, homeowners who are at least 65 years old may sell part of the tail end of the leases of their HDB flats to the Government for income. They must have at least 20 years of lease to sell to HDB, among other eligibility conditions.
Read also: Unsold HDB flats to be offered all-year round: Lawrence Wong
The sale proceeds will be used to top up the owner's CPF Retirement Account which can be withdrawn as a monthly income, or part of the proceeds may be withdrawn in cash if the owner meets the Retirement Account requirements.
4. Lift upgrading
New: To help them buy another flat, a housing grant of up to S$30,000 will be given to those who have mobility issues or medical conditions, but are living in flats without direct lift access.
“(For) residents (who) may urgently need direct lift access due to medical or mobility issues, it is more cost-effective to help them move to another flat,” Mr Wong said.
He told Members of Parliament, who were asking for housing blocks in their ward to be eligible for lift upgrading, that about 150 blocks are not eligible for the programme.
For some, it is “not technically feasible”, while the costs for others would be very high, requiring more than S$200,000 for each household.
5. Assisted living
New: A pilot block of flats with 160 units in Bukit Batok will be launched in May, and these are designed with a large communal space for residents to gather with their neighbours.
The 32sqm flats will have senior-friendly fittings and larger bathrooms. Applicants need to be 65 years old and above.
More details, such as the prices and sales conditions will be announced in the coming weeks, Mr Wong said.
HELP FOR LOW-INCOME HOUSEHOLDS
1. Improvements for rental flats
Ms Sun Xueling, Senior Parliamentary Secretary for National Development, said that four HDB rental blocks in Chai Chee and Telok Blangah will be undergoing improvements, for example, some flats on each floor will be removed to create more openings to have better natural lighting and ventilation.
“All tenants who are living in the units identified for removal can relocate within the same block, if they prefer,” she said.
2. Helping tenants to buy flats
For tenants in rental flats who have made a downpayment for a new flat, HDB has allowed a waiver of any subsequent rent increase for them since June last year. With this waiver, close to 200 rental households have benefited from the savings, Ms Sun said.
She added that the median amount of rent saved by these families is about S$150 a month.
HOME IMPROVEMENT PROGRAMME
Mr Wong announced that the Home Improvement Programme — which allows older flats to undergo maintenance and repair works to enhance its safety and sanitation facilities — will now be made available for HDB flats built between 1987 and 1997.
All flats built up to 1986 have been refurbished through this programme, he said.
The improvement works will begin for 55,000 flats out of the 230,000 flats built between 1987 and 1997.
“Town councils have submitted their nominations, and we will inform them of the selected projects by this week. We are prioritising the selection by age, so that the older flats go first, and most flats should be able to get the upgrading when they are around 30 years old,” Mr Wong said.
He added that it will take about 10 years for these new set of housing blocks to complete this programme.
Singapore’s oldest blocks will be about 60 years old in another 10 years, and Mr Wong said that if the budget permits, the Government will initiate the Home Improvement Programme II programme that was announced by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong during the National Day Rally speech in 2018.
This is a second round of upgrading for flats between 60 and 70 years old that will be heavily subsidised by the Government to help keep them safe and to retain their value as their 99-year leases run down, Mr Lee had said at the time.
The Voluntary Early Redevelopment Scheme (Vers), also announced by Mr Lee in 2018, is expected to be rolled out sometime after 2030, Mr Wong said on Wednesday.
Vers allows HDB flat owners to decide if they want the authorities to take back their apartments for redevelopment at around the 70-year mark of their lease.
These were the initiatives announced by Mr Lee at the time to address the lease decay issue of old HDB flats.
GREENING OF HOUSING ESTATES
In a bid to make public housing estates greener and more sustainable, Mr Wong also announced the launch of the HDB Green Towns programme over the next 10 years.
This will see:
All HDB estates getting smart LED lighting, which uses up to 60 per cent less energy than regular LED lighting
A doubling of the power capacity derived from solar panels installed at HDB rooftops
A new underground water detention system being introduced to recycle rainwater and mitigate flood risks
A new type of paint called “cool paint” being used that can reduce heat absorbed by buildings
Mr Wong said that the Government aims to reduce energy consumption in HDB towns by 15 per cent through this programme.
More charging points for electric vehicles will be introduced at selected public car parks, too.