Tuesday, July 14, 2009

33,000 HDB flats to be upgraded over 3 years

$1 billion to be spent to speed up improvement to homes

THE Government is ramping up a programme to spruce up older HDB flats over the next three years - a move that is expected to benefit 33,000 households.

It will spend about $1 billion to speed up the Home Improvement Programme (HIP) to take advantage of lower construction costs and to create more work for the construction industry, Senior Minister of State (National Development) Grace Fu said yesterday.

'It is a good time not only because there is manpower, materials and capacity in the construction industry, but it is also for us to benefit more residents and give more jobs to the industry,' she said after visiting the first block of 103 flats at Yishun Street 21 completed under HIP.

The nationwide upgrading initiative, announced by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the 2007 National Day Rally, covers flats built in 1986 or earlier.

It provides for optional improvements within a flat such as new toilets and metal grille gates, as well as compulsory upgrades such as repairs for spalling concrete and ceiling leaks.

In all, 300,000 households islandwide are eligible for the improvements.

More than 13,000 have been selected in the past two years from estates such as Tampines, Toa Payoh and Ang Mo Kio. This year, at least another 8,000 households will be selected.

It is timely to expand the programme as construction costs, as reflected in bidding prices, have fallen by about 10 per cent to 15 per cent, Ms Fu said.

The decline is in line with estimates by analysts that bidding prices would drop this year compared to last year.

But plans to ramp up HIP raised the question of whether residents can afford it, given that the economy is in recession.

Responding, Ms Fu said she did not think there would be a problem as government subsidies were 'very significant'.

'Residents generally pay about 5 per cent to 12.5 per cent depending on the room type. On top of that, they can use their CPF or they can even discuss paying by instalments through CPF,' she said.

According to the HDB website, cost estimates range from $630 for a one- to three-room flat, to $1,575 for an executive flat.

Madam Lee Kwai Heng, 55, paid less - $550 - for upgrades to her three-room flat at Block 228 in Yishun Street 21.

She went for all the optional upgrades, including new toilets, and a new entrance door and grille gate. The cost is three-quarters of her $700 monthly income - $300 which she earns as a part-time cleaner and $400 from renting out a room.

Said Madam Lee, who is single: 'I used my CPF to pay for it, so it is not a problem. I have lived here for 20 years, and I have not made any major renovations.'

Ms Fu said residents not only enjoyed subsidies under HIP, but also the convenience of having all the improvements done at one go.

As an indication that the changes were well-received, she noted that 99 per cent of residents surveyed gave the thumbs-up to their upgraded Block 228.

The high proportion of residents who voted for the upgrading last year - 92 per cent on average - was another indicator.

The minimum requirement for such work to be carried out is 75 per cent.

The convenience of these improvements was also not lost on permanent residents who own HDB flats but who do not enjoy HIP subsidies, as these are meant only for Singapore citizens.

Even though they knew they had to pay the full amount, Ms Fu noted that households decided to join in - and even went for the optional improvements.

Ramping up the upgrading plans also applies to the Neighbourhood Renewal Programme. This provides facilities such as letterboxes and covered linkways based on residents' feedback.

This year, 13 precincts - each of which typically has eight to 10 blocks - will be picked under the programme.

Source: Straits Times, 14 July 2009

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