Grace Fu on housing: Land use will always be a critical consideration

Q: The state does have a major role in deciding how a large percentage of citizens live, given that 80 per cent of us live in HDB flats. Do you think this will change?

I think we can answer that through two perspectives. One is whether the Government will have a big role in deciding our living conditions. The second is whether public housing will still cover such a large proportion.

To the first question, I think the answer is yes, because land use will always be a critical consideration because of the constraints we have. So whether it is planning for private or public housing, how we place them, in terms of the height, the density – I think the Government will continue to have a big influence.

The second issue is whether public housing should really be provided for such a large segment of the population. One group says, perhaps Singaporeans are more qualified now and therefore they should want to decide how to live, where to live, and so on.

On the other end, there are those who say, please raise your income ceiling for subsidies because although I’m earning $8,500 or $9,000, I still want to live in an HDB block as it’s an affordable option.

So we always have to balance between these two groups. And it depends on what the people want ultimately. We have to make the judgment whether that coverage will go up or down over time.

Q: Has there been a shift towards one end of the spectrum?

Yes, it has moved towards allowing more private-sector participation, in the form of the Design, Build and Sell Scheme. We also have this Executive Condominium group, for which we are releasing more sites. So that is something we will continue to do.

We are very mindful that when we cover 80 per cent of the population, the 80 per cent is a very huge group, and the lowest 10 per cent is different from the 70th to 80th percentile. It could be very different in terms of their earning potential, their aspirations, their mobility. So our housing policy will have to, in a way, cater to the different segments.

Q: But there has been discontent on some level about rising housing costs.

Obviously, the market goes through boom and bust. So in a rising market, we get many anxious applicants wanting flats immediately.

Some people have proposed, oh, why don’t you lift that $8,000 income ceiling.

But we decided not to because if we increase the income ceiling, then we are actually allowing a segment with higher income to compete with the ones earning $8,000 and below.

We decided that is not the way to go, but what we should do is really to help people at the lower end of the income segment.

Source : Sunday Times – 8 Aug 2010

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