8 March 2019 :
Making owning a home an achievable dream for more
In the last five years, the Build-To-Order backlog has been cleared, more singles have had a chance to buy a flat, and it has become slightly easier for divorcees and their children to get a roof over their heads.
Now, the home ownership narrative for the vast majority is being expanded to include a group of people that, inadvertently or otherwise, seems to have fallen through the cracks: families in rental homes.
Amid recent discussions about income inequality and the widening social class divide, the Ministry of National Development sent a strong signal yesterday – when it announced a slew of measures for these families – that every possible effort will be made to ensure no one is left behind in this quintessentially Singaporean journey.
The measures include a team dedicated to actively spot rental families with the potential to buy an HDB flat, and extending a $15,000 grant to second-timer families in rental homes to buy three-room flats in new estates.
For many who live in larger flats or homes, these units may appear too small, or too far from the heart of town. But they provide a sense of stability families typically yearn for, are a tangible reminder that progress has not eluded them, and are a source of comfort that they have an asset and a home to make memories in.
Also, most home owners use their Central Provident Fund savings to settle most, if not all, of their monthly mortgage. This is a big relief as they also do not have to constantly worry about whether they have the cash to pay the month’s rent. For rental families, who earn below $1,500 a month, every dollar counts.
But achieving home ownership is easier said than done. Only 5,000 out of 56,000 rental families have done so in the last six years.
Rising above one’s disadvantaged circumstances requires a mix of factors, including social intervention, higher education and better-paying jobs.
This complex state takes time to resolve. To hasten it, the authorities are making a whole-of-government effort, as seen in four ministries pledging in a joint statement on Tuesday to mitigate income inequality and increase social mobility.
But the move that heartened me most is the interim measure to improve substantially the living environment of those living in older rental blocks.
These ageing blocks, built in the 1960s and 1970s with a long central corridor and flats on both sides, have been described by sociologists as functional but claustrophobic, which sometimes cause tension in complicated familial and neighbourly relations.
Now, the HDB is going to demolish some units to let in more light and fresh air.
It is also acknowledging the need for privacy for tenants sharing a rental flat under the Joint Singles Scheme, by installing partitions to create separate sleeping areas.
But for rental families, the message in the new measures is that the authorities have shifted their focus, from just housing the disadvantaged to working with them to make a home.
As a member of the Singapore family, their sense of belonging and social pride will strengthen as their needs that go beyond food and shelter receive as much attention as those of everyone else.
Such feelings help fortify loyalty to country.
Of course, it helps that the rental flat backlog has been cleared, with the supply now exceeding 60,000.
While expecting a higher rate of rental families progressing to home ownership is the eternal hope, the complex nature of the family situation cannot be overemphasised.
Still, setting a hard target – say, a 50 per cent rise in five years’ time of last year’s 1,300 families – gives us a goal to work towards.
More critically, it will help convince many more rental families that home ownership is a possibility, not a pipe dream.
As Senior Parliamentary Secretary Sun Xueling and some MPs had noted, public rental should be temporary for those who can work.
Singapore, however, is still some way off from being all-inclusive. MPs like Mr Louis Ng (Nee Soon GRC), have asked the authorities to let unwed mothers buy an HDB flat more easily while some activists say lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender couples are entitled to subsidised homes too.
We have taken a good step forward for rental families.
Perhaps we can do more.
Adapted from: The Straits Times, 8 March 2019