HDB BTO for singles: First, the good news

New proud owners of a HDB 2-room flat

Proud new owners of a HDB 2-room flat

It is becoming customary for me to write about HDB balloting exercises, having previously commented on the Sale of Balance (SBF) exercises for 2-room flats last year, and the recent May BTO exercise. While I do not intend this to become a trend, I do note that my posts on HDB flats tend to attract the highest sustained traffic even long after I’ve written them, showing how much housing matters to Singaporeans compared to issues like political bickering we have seen recently.

So, on to the current July BTO exercise, and let’s start with the good news in this post. I shall leave the bad news to my next post so you have the option to stop here and read only “the right news”.

We are all aware that this is the first BTO exercise where “single eligible” (above 35 years old earning $5,000 or less — alas, the term will never give the same positive connotation again for the dating scene in this country) Singaporeans can bid for new HDB 2-room flats. Contrary to previous doubts from many, including myself, demand has been overwhelming. Hopefully, this will spur the government to build more for this long neglected group.

There has been a lot of emphasis on the housing grants available to applicants, and a number that has caught the eyes of many is the figure of $16,000 quoted by the HDB as the lowest selling price in this exercise. This is the theoretical figure if you take the cheapest flat available ($76,000 in Yishun) and apply the maximum possible housing grant ($60,000) on it. As with most other minimum prices, this is unlikely to happen because it will take what the Chinese call 天时,地利,人和 (perfect confluence of timing, location and people). To be more precise, you need two singles earning $1,500 or less each to happen to pick the cheapest flat out there.

The really great news about this exercise is that the HDB is allowing joint singles to apply, and giving grants on each individual. To me, there is something symbolic in this gesture when you consider the type of flats involved. A 2-room flat, in case you forget, has only one bedroom. I doubt many grown adults — even siblings — would want to share a small bedroom in a flat of only 35 or 45 sqm. That means the majority of joint single applicants could be couples in a relationship who don’t intend to get married, or same-sex couples. It would be interesting to find out if this is indeed the case, but the government will surely not release such statistics lest it be accused of promoting alternative lifestyles.

It is true that the Joint Singles Scheme (JSS) has existed for resale flats long before this BTO exercise, and similar housing grants have been given to singles applying together. But that is a blanket rule that applies to any flat type and predominantly 3- to 5-rooms that come with more than one bedrooms.  For this BTO exercises, the HDB could have ruled that only sole singles under the Single Singaporean Citizen (SSC) scheme are eligible to apply and no one would have batted an eyelid. But, importantly, they didn’t.

Coincidentally or not, on the exact same day the BTO exercise was announced, the National Family Council unveiled the Singapore Family Pledge. This has gotten some quarters up in arms over its narrowly defined concept of the family, excluding the likes of single parents and same-sex couples. I do agree that the pledge reads awfully like something from the religious conservative, but, hey, action speaks louder than mere words. As long as the HDB doesn’t shut out non-conventional couples from its flats — and even gives out higher grants for them — the NFC can write whatever they want in their pledge.

And now for the bad news