Singaporeans are owners of HDB flats as they profit from it: Minister

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Issue of HDB's 99-year lease a hot topic at PA's dialogue on National Day Rally

Singaporeans have been able to make profits from the sale of Housing Board flats, and that proves they are owners, not mere tenants, said Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Indranee Rajah yesterday.

"If you're not the owner, then you don't get to keep the profit either because tenants don't get to sell," she stressed, when responding to a question from a member of the Indian community during a People's Association dialogue on the National Day Rally.

The issue of HDB's 99-year lease was a hot topic at yesterday's session, along with the cost of living and public healthcare - which formed key parts of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's rally speech on Aug 19.

Along with Ms Indranee, Senior Minister of State for Transport and Communications and Information Janil Puthucheary and Sembawang GRC MP Vikram Nair addressed questions from around 350 participants from various Indian organisations, volunteers and grassroots organisations.

One asked whether the 99-year HDB lease means the buyer is really a long-term tenant. Ms Indranee, who is also Second Minister for Finance and Education, pointed out how those who bought then sold their flats could make a profit.

"If you're a tenant, you don't get the right to sell, you just get the right to live in it," she said.

But she also cautioned that like any asset, HDB flats have "a life cycle". Ms Indranee said during the early part of the lease, the value of the flat would appreciate.

"But towards the end, as the lease gets shorter and shorter, the market value will necessarily go down," she went on.

This is why the Government has introduced the Voluntary Early Redevelopment Scheme, said Ms Indranee.

The scheme, which was announced by Mr Lee in his rally speech, allows residents living in selected precincts and whose flats are older than 70 years old, to vote on whether to sell their flats back to the Government before the leases expire.

Another housing issue raised was how the s Ethnic Integration Policy, put in place to ensure there is a balanced mix of various ethnic communities in HDB towns, makes it harder for Indians to sell their flats.

They tend to be allowed to sell only to other Indians, and the smaller market means having to accept lower prices, despite buying the flat at the same price as the other ethnic groups.

Dr Janil replied that if not for the ethnic quotas, neighbourhoods will be segregated by race across Singapore and this would make the community "far worse off".

It would also not be fair for the HDB to provide subsidies to address this issue, he added.

Several participants also asked whether the Government can financially sustain schemes announced at the rally, such as the Merdeka Generation Package to help those born in the 1950s with their medical expenses.

Ms Indranee replied that this is dependent on having good governance, good fiscal policy and a good government.

"None of these things would be possible if you do not have a strong economy, if the revenue generated from the economy is properly spent, saved, invested and grown."