Tuesday, January 26, 2010

HDB flats: Why did supply fail to keep up with population growth?

WITH reference to the Housing and Development Board’s (HDB) reply last Thursday (‘Income ceiling helps ensure neediest get subsidised flats’), my sense is that the HDB underestimated the social ramifications of the resale policy to permanent residents (PRs), while it failed to maintain the Home Ownership Scheme for the people to balance demand of rapid population growth during the past 20 years. As a result, low- and middle-income households have suffered.

The ceiling of $3,000 and $2,000 for three- and two-room flats did not help as HDB did not build enough units to meet the market, citing low demand. This drastic reduction in the number of flats built is detrimental to the ageing population in the rental and sales market.

The policy to allow 533,000 PRs to buy resale HDB flats works against citizens. It is difficult to comprehend why HDB began to wind down the momentum to build more flats during the 1990s when the population ballooned from 3.047 million to 4.027 million by the end of 2000.

The yearly average peak of 30,900 HDB flats built during the 1980s corresponded with the population growth meeting the Home Ownership Scheme. However, during the 1990s when one more million people were added, HDB began to taper down to 25,700. What puzzles me most is that by 2008, when another 810,000 people were added to the population, HDB built only 8,260 units. Why the paradigm shift?

Take the example of a Queenstown five-room flat at $619,000. Single-income families earning $6,000 with two children cannot afford to pay 50 per cent of their income to buy such a flat. Can the $30,000 subsidy help them? Combined-income families with two children earning $8,000 may falter to commit 38 per cent for such flats. These groups are the ‘neediest’ for bigger flats, yet the Home Ownership Scheme eludes them.

Paul Chan

Source: Straits Times, 26 Jan 2010

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