• Published Date: Issue Feb/ Mar 2020

    Across global cities, where inflation and high cost of living have made home ownership out of reach for many, Singapore stands out as a nation of home owners, supported by a range of housing options and policies that cater to various needs.

     

    Home ownership is a cornerstone of Singapore's public housing programme, with more than 90% of HDB residents owning the flats they live in 

     

    “Will you apply for a Build-to-Order (BTO) flat with me?” is a uniquely Singaporean marriage proposal, and a testament to the purchase of a public housing flat as a significant relationship milestone among dating couples.

    Aloysius Foo was walking past a BTO construction site with his girlfriend, Woo Kai Wen, when the topic of buying a flat came up. “I told her that I wanted to become a home owner, and for her to co-own it with me. She found the ‘proposal’ less than romantic, but thankfully she agreed,” Aloysius shares.

    Aloysius did eventually pop the question—after they had selected a 5-room flat in Sembawang. “Kai Wen probably said yes so as to not let the flat deposit go to waste,” he laughs.

    To make home ownership accessible to generations of Singaporeans, HDB has over the years introduced new home offerings and policies to cater to a diverse customer base, while refining existing provisions to suit changing circumstances and needs.

    Today, owning a dream home is now within easy reach of many young Singaporeans like Aloysius and Kai Wen. Home ownership continues to be a cornerstone of the public housing programme, offering Singaporeans a concrete stake in the country.

     

    Different stages of a uniquely Singaporean relationship include dating, BTO and proposal, marriage, and a new home in an HDB flat

     

    Affordable Homes

    New flats are priced with significant discounts, and generous housing grants are offered to eligible first-timer families to help them own their first home. When Aloysius and Kai Wen purchased their flat in 2014, they enjoyed a total housing grant of $40,000. “The grant definitely helped to ease some of our financial worries, especially since Kai Wen had just started working and I was still a student. The money we saved from the grants could also go towards our wedding and home renovation,” Aloysius says.

    In ensuring housing affordability for all Singaporeans, HDB regularly reviews its policies. For example, the income ceiling to buy a flat has been increased, grant amounts have been raised, and new grants, such as the Proximity Housing Grant to help resale flat buyers live with or near their parents or child, were introduced. In 2019, the Enhanced CPF Housing Grant (EHG) replaced the now-defunct Additional CPF Housing Grant and the Special CPF Housing Grant, to help more Singaporeans buy their first new or resale flat, with no restrictions on their choice of flat type and location.

    Having selected their 4-room flat in Punggol from the September 2019 BTO exercise, couple Muhamad Hariz and Siti Hanaa were happy to hear about the new EHG. “The EHG will definitely help to increase the affordability of the flat,” Hariz shares. “It also streamlines what were previously two grants for first-time home buyers into a single grant now. It’s simpler and more seamless.”

     

    Generous housing grants are offered to young couples like Hariz and Hanaa to help them own their first home

     

    Additional Support for Second-Timer Families

    While making home ownership easier for first-timers, there are also measures in place to support second-timer lower-income families in their flat purchase. These include initiatives such as the Step-Up CPF Housing Grant to help eligible second-timer lower-income families buy 2- or 3-room flats in a non-mature estate; and the Fresh Start Housing Scheme to help second-timer families with young children, who are staying in public rental housing, buy a home of their own.

    A newly established Home ownership Support Team (HST) is also on hand to provide comprehensive guidance and personalised assistance for rental families who are ready to own a flat, but unsure how to get started. HST works with these families on their housing budget and options, including explaining to them the available grants and schemes, and guiding them through the flat-buying process. To reach out to the families and provide the necessary support, the team works closely with various social service agencies and providers, including the Ministry of Social and Family Development, Ministry of Manpower, Community Link, and Family Service Centres.

     

    Quality Homes

    From new 2-room Flexi flats to 3Gen flats, homes of different sizes and layouts are available to cater to the different budgets and lifestyle needs of home buyers.

    Keeping up with the evolving lifestyle needs of home owners, HDB has introduced the provision of open kitchen concepts that offer home buyers greater choice and flexibility when designing a living space that best suits their needs—a piece of news that Hariz and Hanaa have eagerly welcomed.

     

    As the tastes, aspirations, and lifestyle needs of home owners are continuously evolving, HDB will continue to create homes that remain relevant for its residents

     

    “We want a cosy and creatively designed home, and plan to use cupboards and shelves to define the kitchen, dining, and living room spaces,” the couple says.

    When completed, Hariz and Hanaa’s flat will also come with the sleeker and more modern fittings announced in 2019, which include glazed porcelain tiles, steel entrance gates with thumb-turn knobs, and laminated timber main doors. The new gates will come without key inserts—residents will no longer need to use a key to unlock the gates from the inside, while the new main doors are more scratch-resistant and durable. The flat will also be equipped with water-efficient fittings such as dual and low-flush toilets to suit eco-friendly lifestyles.

     

    Beyond the Four Walls

    Beyond building homes, HDB works to maintain a stable public residential market. Determining the right housing supply is a fine balance, and in its planning, HDB studies societal trends—including the housing preferences of newlyweds.

    To address strong housing demand, HDB ramped up its building programmes from 2011 to 2014. Newer towns like Punggol rapidly took shape, with homes and supporting facilities, such as schools and malls, sprouting along its meandering waterway. With each quarterly sales launch, flat application rates gradually declined and reached a steady state from its peak.

    HDB’s strategies, together with the various cooling measures that were introduced between 2010 and 2013, including capping the mortgage servicing ratio and tightening rules for renting out of flats, helped moderate a skyrocketing resale market.  

    To inject vibrancy into mature towns and give Singaporeans a chance to live near their parents, HDB released new flats in areas such as Ang Mo Kio and Clementi, and even opened up new areas within existing towns, such as Bidadari in Toa Payoh.

     

    Home buyers have more options to choose from, as new flats are also built in mature estates like Clementi

     

    A Home for Life

    Buying a home is a long-term commitment, and HDB’s upgrading programmes facilitate flats being a home for life. The popular Home Improvement Programme (HIP) addresses maintenance issues in older flats and is heavily subsidised. HIP consists of 3 components, one of which is the Enhancement for Active Seniors (EASE) improvements that focus on making flats more elder-friendly. Currently residing at Farrer Road, 87-year-old Safiah Yaakub is a resident who has benefited from the programme.

    “My flat underwent EASE in October 2019,” Safiah recalls. “A total of 8 grab bars were installed and they have helped to increase my mobility within the flat. The grab bars provide the support I need—especially at night, when I’m walking in the dark from my bedroom to the bathroom. I would also occasionally use the grab bar in my bedroom to exercise by doing some simple stretches!”

     

    EASE makes flats more elder-friendly and comfortable for elderly residents

     

    In caring for residents in their golden years, HDB has also implemented the Lease Buyback Scheme (LBS), first conceived to provide lower-income seniors an added option to monetise their flat for retirement. From January 2019, LBS was extended to all flat types, helping more seniors unlock the value of their flat.

    As our nation and people progress, and aspirations for homes and housing evolve, HDB remains steadfast in its mission to provide affordable homes of quality and value for Singaporeans, making each generation’s dreams of owning a roof over their heads a reality.