Mr Pritam Singh: The HDB’s web page lists seven separate priority schemes to book a flat under the Build-To-Order (BTO) or Sales of Balance Flat exercises. My purpose in speaking on them today is to ask whether the HDB has explored whether the thresholds of these priority schemes remain fit for purpose, in light of current demand in relation to supply, and under what circumstances does the HDB review and adjust them.
The Minister for MND in his written answer to several Parliamentary Questions in January this year said that there were 5.5 applications for each BTO flat in 2021, after an even higher 5.8 applications per flat in 2020. While he explained that the numbers include repeat applications and that they increased partly due to the raising of the monthly income ceiling, he agreed that there is currently a strong demand for public housing.
Taking into consideration this mismatch, the Government should take a look at whether the allocation of HDB flats, including through the use of these schemes, is being done in the fairest and most optimum way possible. One thing that needs to be pointed out is that the priority schemes do not truly give priority. They do not ensure that applicants in the schemes get allocated flats over those not within the schemes. The schemes merely increase the probability of being allocated a flat and thereby give the appearance of being awarded priority.
For example, 30% of BTO flats are set aside for first-timer married couples with children. If more than 30% of applicants are first-timer married couples with children, then there will be a ballot. If a couple is unsuccessful, then they go into another balloting pool, but they could again be unsuccessful. It must have happened many times in the past that non-prioritised applicants, for example, second-time applicants got BTO flats while perhaps so-called prioritise applicants did not. Higher chances and multiple chances are just that – chances. It does not matter how many chances an applicant has over others, if they fail, it is still 0% success in getting a flat.
If they are really deserving groups, the Government should look into the possibility of giving such groups actual priority. The question of course, is, who should get the priority and to what extent? Should it remain at 30% for married couples with children, or should this go up to a higher percentage and include even newly married couples? I am minded to think so.
In order for Singaporeans to better prepare for their own BTO plans going forward, would the Government publish the number of applications under each priority scheme as a percentage for every HDB BTO exercise after the selection process is completed? This information would make it clearer to applicants and to market watchers what the current trends point to. This would also prompt proactive adjustment of the policy scheme thresholds to be more attuned with the market and population demands.
To conclude, the current system is reminiscent of a previous system in allocating primary school places. Singaporeans were given priority in the sense that they got more ballot chances than PRs, but this meant that many times, PRs would be successful while citizens were not. This has now been changed, of course.
The principle is the same when it comes to BTOs. The Government should consider making priority an actuality, rather than for some – a probability. From a national perspective, is there scope to increase priority for first-timer married couples with children and newly married couples?
Ministry of National Development
8 March 2022