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     FrontPage Edition: Mon 28 August 2006

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Key challenges facing public housing in Singapore

Source:  www.gov.sg

LECTURE BY MR MAH BOW TAN, MINISTER FOR NATIONAL DEVELOPMENT AT THE LEE KUAN YEW SCHOOL OF PUBLIC POLICY¡¯S SECOND ANNIVERSARY PUBLIC LECTURE ON THURSDAY, 17 AUGUST 2006 AT 12.00 PM

¡°Public Housing: Homes, Communities, Nation¡±

An Excerpt

Challenge 1: Ageing Population
The first challenge is the demographic shift brought about by our ageing population.
Between now and 2030, the number of elderly aged 65 years or older will increase dramatically, from 300,000 to 900,000. 1 in 5 Singaporeans will be aged 65 and above by 2030.
We will need to provide a wide range of housing options to meet the different financial needs and lifestyle preferences of the elderly, from smaller HDB flats like studio apartments, to private retirement housing with dedicated care facilities.
One key concern of the elderly will be retirement adequacy. We have put in place various options to help retirees who are asset-rich but cash-poor monetise their assets for retirement.
These include allowing them to sublet their flats to earn extra income or to cash out of their existing flats and move to smaller ones. Banks and financial institutions can also offer reverse mortgage schemes for HDB flats.
HDB must continue to look into other options to provide our elderly residents with sufficient financial means to lead fulfilling lives in their retirement years.
We will also have to make adjustments to our physical environment, so that it is elder-friendly.
Massive investments will be made to provide lift access on every floor of HDB blocks and to make the environment barrier-free to facilitate mobility.
We have also redesigned all new HDB flats to make it easier for the elderly and wheelchair-bound residents to move about.
Challenge 2: Income Divide
With globalisation and competition from lower cost countries, the wages of lower-skilled Singaporeans is under pressure.
Our second major challenge is keeping public housing affordable to the vast majority of Singaporeans, so that we can continue to bring people of different socio-economic groups closer together.
The Government has committed that up to 90% of Singaporeans can afford to buy a basic HDB flat.
To fulfil this promise, HDB has resumed the building of smaller flats to provide more affordable housing options for the lower-income group. It has also introduced additional housing subsidies to help them to buy a flat.
However, there will always be some lower-income households who cannot afford to buy a flat. For this group, HDB will provide rental flats at a subsidised rate to provide them with a roof over their heads.
Challenge 3: More Diverse Population
The last challenge is how to strengthen our social and community ties.
As our population becomes more diverse and cosmopolitan, as more Singaporeans live, work or travel overseas, it will become even more important to leverage on public housing to broaden the common space between Singaporeans and promote rootedness to Singapore.
We need to engender a greater sense of ownership among the residents. Over the years, we have relaxed our policies to make public housing more akin to private housing, through the relaxation of some of the rules on sub-letting of flats, loans etc. We need to find ways to deepen this sense of ownership.
Singaporeans are also becoming more affluent and better educated. To meet rising aspirations, we have involved private sector architects to design and build HDB projects. This has given rise to several innovations in public housing design.
A premium design project, the Pinnacle@ Duxton, with sky bridges on the 26th and 50th stories connecting the 7 blocks of the development, is currently under construction. This project will bring many new and younger residents into Chinatown, and rejuvenate an old part of Singapore.
We are also piloting another scheme to allow private developers not only to design and build, but also price and sell the flats to HDB buyers.
With additional flexibility to design and price the flats, I hope developers will introduce further innovations in public housing design and development.
Conclusion
Over the last 46 years, Singapore has successfully created a home-owning society under our public housing programme. This basis of home ownership, buttressed by strong political commitment, careful planning and community-focused policies, has played an important part in Singapore¡¯s nation building.
Looking ahead, I expect public housing will continue to play an important role in shaping Singapore¡¯s social fabric. Our public housing policies will have to evolve, not only to respond to the changing needs of the people, but also in support of national strategies.

Full Text of Speech

Source:  www.mnd.gov.sg News 17 Aug 2006

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