During the Parliament Session on 8 March, Leader of the Opposition Pritam Singh proposed that the age eligibility for singles to purchase a 2-room Flexi Build-To-Order (BTO) flat or resale flat should be lowered from 35 to 28.
Truthfully speaking, that’s a bold proposition to make, and the singles will laud Mr Singh a hero if he actually manages to make the Parliament pass the amendment.
Reasons to Lower the Age Eligibility to 28
To support the Worker Party’s proposition, Mr Singh referred to the most recent government census which showed that the proportions of singles between 25 to 34 have increased from the statistics gathered in 2010.
For the proportion of single residents aged between 24 to 29:
- For males, it has risen from 74.6% to 81.6%
- For females, it has risen from 54% to 69%.
Likewise for those aged between 30 to 34, it has risen to 41.9% and 32.8% for males and females respectively.
The current trends of Singapore’s social demographic show an increase in the proportion of singles, and thereby a proportional decrease in married couples, which makes Mr Singh question if the government ever intends to lower the age limit of 35 to adjust to the needs of the society.
The Question of Marriage, Filial Piety, and Home Ownership
Besides that, Mr Singh said: “There is a prevailing orthodoxy that Singaporeans should be married by 35, and offering flats to those of a younger age could somehow discourage marriage. Alternately, there may be an assumption that offering flats to those younger than 35 would jeopardise the value of filial piety.”
It’s no secret that Singapore has always held the belief that families are the very building blocks of society, and filial piety is one of the norms of Singapore.
In order to debunk these assumptions, Mr Singh referenced the 2021 publication on The State of Youth in Singapore conducted by the National Youth Council, for those between 15 and 34 years of age.
In that study, respondents were given 19 options that they would rank from “very important to “not important at all”.
The results showed that “maintaining strong family relationships” and “having a place of their own” were ranked “somewhat important” or “very important” by at least 95% of the respondents.
The Leader of Opposition then concludes that having strong familial ties, or being filial to one’s family, and having a home of their own is not mutually exclusive to the youths of today.
To give further clarification, Mr Singh states that “having strong family relationships” did not automatically point towards marriage or having children, since those were the 10th and 11th choices respectively.
An Alternative Train of Thought
With the youths’ priorities in mind, Mr Singh questions the presumption that offering flats would actually discourage genuine interest in long-term marriage.
He proceeds to offer another perspective: “Isn’t it possible that some people who want to be married may be discouraged from tying the knot early because they prefer to have financial security before getting hitched and having children?”
Hypothetically speaking, if a single person was allowed to purchase a HDB property earlier, it might open up considerations to move on to marriage and parenthood, since they are already assured in their financial capabilities with a stable roof above their heads.
Moreover, being able to purchase a flat at the earlier age of 28 years old as opposed to 35 might leave a broader scope for the growth of their CPF balance since they’re undertaking the burden of paying off their place of residence earlier, which would allow for a peace of mind for retirement adequacy.
Response: Demand will Increase with Lowered Age Limit
Senior Minister for the Ministry of National Development Sim Ann refuted this by saying that housing options and grants have been expanding over the years.
She acknowledges that the overall housing policy is geared towards supporting families, but that the government is also cognizant of the home-owning aspirations of singles, especially for those who are caretakers or are seniors.
The Ministry of National Development argues that they have always had their concerns in mind and that it will continue to examine how they can assist this category of people.
However, the stark reality that the small island faces is a limitation in land space; trade-offs and the resources available need to be taken into consideration before a policy is made or amended.
“By lowering the age limit, demand will go up. And we need to make sure we have the land and resources to meet such demand,” Ms Sim Ann adds.
Following that, Ms Sim addresses a cut by Member of Parliament (MP) Rachel Ong regarding housing access for families with non-citizens.
She states the Ministry’s first priority right now is to make up for the delays caused by the pandemic, before reiterating that they recognise that “the needs and aspirations of Singaporeans are changing”.
Among other things, examining how to best extend more support towards singles and non-citizens are part of their agenda, but that will have to wait until the situation has stabilised.
Mr Lee’s Rebuttal: On Land Constraints and Policy Changes
The Minister for National Development Desmond Lee concurs with Ms Sim’s point that Singapore faces constraints in terms of land and resources.
He further highlights that policies have changed to suit the needs of society.
For instance, singles couldn’t buy BTO flats in the past, but the government made allowances for them and gave them the right to buy 2-room Flexi flats.
Singles that have caregiving obligations also have the option of buying the flats by listing their parents as essential occupiers, or by choosing to live with their siblings.
Apart from that Mr Lee points out the conflicts in the proposals that Mr Singh is trying to push for.
In Mr Singh’s earlier cut, he mentioned that housing priority schemes “merely increase the probability of being allocated the flats”, rather than ensure that the applicants under said priority schemes are allocated the flats.
The gist of Mr Singh’s argument is that he advocates for housing priority allocation to become an “actuality” instead of remaining a higher “probability”, because there have been new families that have complained that they have been unsuccessful repeatedly.
In response, Mr Lee stated that: “If we provide absolute priority for certain groups, like— you mentioned households (first time families or married couples), then even if you make adjustments for singles, as you propose, it will not come into fruition because all the space will be taken up.”
Mr Singh: Has the Census Affected the Ministry’s Plans
Among the final clarifications in the Ministry of National Development’s debate, Mr Singh begs for the reconsideration of lowering the age eligibility for singles to purchase a 2-room Flexi BTO flat or a resale flat.
Additionally, he asks the Minister of National Development that within the Ministry’s plan to build up to hundred thousand flats between 2021 to 2025, has the information from the census prompted a change in the HDB’s planning, like building more flats for singles for instance.
Mr Lee: The Ministry is Aware of Social Demographic Changes
Mr Desmond Lee step forward to the podium again, replying that the Ministry has always paid attention to the changing social demographic trends, like the increase of proportion in singles, and delayed marriage and parenthood.
The Ministry has responded accordingly, through allowing the singles to apply for BTO flats as early as October 1991, as well as adjusting the grant eligibility. The Ministry pledges to continue to adjust the HDB eligibility criteria as the circumstances change over the years.
However, the priority of the Ministry of National Development is “to deliver the flats that people are waiting for” and to first address the demand from new households and nuclearizing households.
Mr Lee concluded by saying that both sides of the houses have the same goal, where they want its citizens to reach their aspiration of home ownership.
“If neither land nor resources were constrained, we want to meet everyone’s needs all the time.
“But [the reality is that] we have to make priorities for different groups based on incomes, based on nationality, based on [the] number of chances they’ve got at owning a home, based on their family obligations, and then make some adjustments, helping those who may need more and giving them more support.”
The land and resource constraints are real problems in Singapore; since that is where the country’s situation stands, the Ministry needs to continuously look at the needs of Singaporeans and the housing options that they can have and the government is able to provide.
Given all the has been said, it is unlikely that the age eligibility for singles’ purchase of flats will be lowered any time soon.
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Featured Image: YouTube (MCI Singapore) & Housing and Development Board
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