Saturday, June 20, 2009

Fast facts about rental flats in Singapore

How many: There are 42,800 rental flats in Singapore – 19,700 are one-room and 23,100 two-roomers.

How much: They are rented to needy Singaporeans at a heavily subsidised rate under the Public Rental Scheme. Monthly rent ranges from $26 to $205 for one-room flats and $44 to $275 for two-roomers.

How big: They range in size from 280 to 484 sq ft each.

Where they are: Besides the Jalan Kukoh area, which includes the Jalan Minyak and York Hill enclaves, there are at least 1,000 rental flats in areas such as Geylang, Toa Payoh, Ang Mo Kio, Bedok, Bukit Merah, Kallang and Whampoa.

Brief history: These homes were built in the 1960s to take in Singaporeans then living in slums and squatter colonies. The HDB later started building three- and four-room flats to accommodate growing households. As the economy took off, more Singaporeans could afford to buy their own homes. Today, 82 per cent of the resident population live in HDB flats and 80 per cent of the population own their flats.

Growing demand: Even as demand for rental flats slumped post-Independence, they were retained to cater to the needy. From 66,005 applications at the start of the 1970s, the demand for rental flats dropped by nearly 90 per cent, to 4,493 applications in 2004. However, there has been renewed interest over the last three years. In 2005, there were 5,138 applicants and this rose to 5,643 in 2007. Last year, 5,970 people applied for rental flats, signalling the end of a 30-year downward spiral for rental housing.

Waiting time: Demand for rental flats far outstrips supply today. While 300 applicants join the queue each month, only about 150 people return flats in the same period. As of February this year, the average waiting time for a one-room flat was 19.5 months, almost five months longer than in December 2007. The wait for a two-room flat was 15 months, five months more than in 2007.

Going forward: To meet the growing demand, the government converted vacant three- and four-room flats in Woodlands and Boon Lay to one- and two-roomers last year. The HDB says the total number of rental flats will increase to 49,860 by the end of 2011. The next batch of 290 converted units in Redhill should also be ready by the end of this year. New HDB rental flats are also being built in Yishun, Sembawang and Choa Chu Kang. This will increase the stock of rental flats to 50,000 units by 2012, a 17 per cent increase from the 42,800 units now.

Political issue: Just who is deserving of a rental flat has become a political issue. National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan told Parliament in February that two-thirds of the 4,550 applicants in the current waiting list for rental flats ‘do not seem to be in financial difficulty when they sold their flats’. He said that 40 per cent of these former home owners collected a profit of more than $90,000 from selling their HDB flats. Such applicants should be able to afford other housing options, instead of vying with the genuinely needy for a rental flat. This has prompted the HDB to set stringent criteria based on factors such as age, income, property ownership and family support for applicants.

Eligibility: The criteria for the Public Rental Scheme were tightened in February. Singapore citizens over 21 and with an average monthly household income not exceeding $1,500 can apply for a rental flat.

Applicants must have a proper family nucleus – defined as applicant and spouse; applicant (if single) and parents; applicant (if widowed/divorced) with children under legal custody; fiance and fiancee or orphaned siblings – to be eligible. But two single persons at least 35 years old can apply for a rental flat under the Joint Singles Scheme.

Income and assets of rental flat applicants who have enjoyed at least one housing subsidy are assessed. This is to prevent applicants, like retirees, who do not exceed the household income ceiling of $1,500 per month but are asset-rich, from joining the rental flat queue. Family support will also be considered. Elderly with children who own flats or houses and whose children can accommodate them will not qualify. Applicants who previously owned or sold two direct-purchased HDB flats in the open market are permanently debarred from application. A 30-month debarment period applies for applicants who just sold their flats.

Source: Straits Times, 20 June 2009

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