Analysts propose restrictions, sociologists ask for housing policies to be delinked from Government’s pro-family stance
by Woo Sian Boon
Updated 12:29 PM Aug 28, 2012

SINGAPORE – Allow singles to buy a new Build-to-Order (BTO) flat with another single friend or relative. Limit the sizes of the flats that singles can buy directly from the HDB and restrict them to buying units in non-mature estates. Place singles in the same queue as second-time buyers for BTO projects.

Extend the Top-up Grant to singles who buy BTO units. Currently, this scheme allows singles above 35 who bought resale flats to qualify for more subsidies after they tie the knot.

These were some of the suggestions floated by property analysts TODAY spoke to, in light of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s announcement during Sunday’s National Day Rally that the Government is considering allowing singles to buy flats directly from HDB.

Currently, singles who are above 35 can only buy flats in the resale market.

However, views were divided among the property analysts on whether HDB should make it easier for unwed mothers to buy BTO flats as compared to singles, given that unwed mothers would have greater need for a home. Those not in favour felt that doing so could send a wrong signal.

However, sociologists TODAY spoke to were adamant that the Government delink housing policies from its pro-family stance.

National University of Singapore (NUS) sociologist Tan Ern Ser said: “Most young people buy a flat so that they can set up their matrimonial homes; rather than get married in order to qualify for a flat. The implication is that a person who remains single, whether by choice or necessity, will not decide on marriage or marry for the heck of it, just to qualify for a flat. The same logic applies to unwed mothers.”

Sociologist and former Nominated Member of Parliament Paulin Straughan added: “Certainly, we don’t want to encourage people to get married just for the sake of getting a flat, that’s all the wrong reasons for marriage.”

Associate Professor Straughan felt that allowing singles to buy flats directly from HDB is overdue, given the increasing number of Singaporeans who are choosing not to get married.

“This is a reaction to the emerging demographic trends where the proportion of singles are increasing. I think we are looking at the percentage of post 35 year-olds … especially women, in that category, it has been rising year on year,” she said.

Should distinction be made?

Still, property analysts felt that a distinction has to be made between married couples and singles, when it comes to buying a BTO flat.

Mr Chris Koh, Director of Chris International, said: “There is a fine line here … We are on one hand encouraging couples to get married and have children, and we want to give them priority in getting a brand new flat, but if we kind of signal that, be a single and you can also get a brand new flat, then people will be asking, why get married?”

One suggestion was to allow singles to buy only BTO flats of limited size and to reserve larger flats for married couples.

Chesterton Suntec International research and consultancy head Colin Tan pointed out that, given that BTO flats are subsidised, allowing singles to buy such units without extra restrictions on, for instance, flat size – just as a married couple could – would theoretically mean they would enjoy “double subsidies”.

In addition to smaller flats, Mr Koh suggested that singles should only be allowed to buy BTO flats in non-mature estates. To ensure that newly-wed couples are given priority to get their first homes, Mr Koh also suggested that singles be placed in the queue for second-timers when balloting for BTO flats.

The property analysts felt that, ultimately, any new policy will focus on encouraging singles to tie the knot, even after getting the keys to their new flats.

Assoc Prof Straughan reiterated that housing is “a basic need, it is not icing on the cake”. “You can’t deny a Singaporean of a basic need just because they don’t conform to the ideal family types,” she said.

Association of Women for Action and Research Executive Director Corinna Lim said that singles “should not be excluded from society”.

“Singles pay taxes like anyone else, so they shouldn’t be deprived of these benefits,” she added.

(via Today Online)

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