Are singles less deserving?

Many singles have been waiting for months, some for years, but when it was finally announced that those among them aged 35 and above will soon be able to buy new flats directly from the Housing and Development Board (HDB), the details came as a big letdown.

The singles have been eagerly awaiting the green light to buy three-room Build-To-Order (BTO) flats, if not larger ones. After all, the new three-room flats are clearly smaller than the existing three-room flats in older estates. So, when it was announced that they can only buy two-room flats, there was a huge collective groan. The views of a colleague who is single probably sum up the feelings of most singles.

She asked whether singles are less deserving than other citizens. If so, the HDB should continue to bar singles from buying new flats. But, if singles are just as deserving as other citizens, the HDB should give wholeheartedly and not grudgingly — and certainly not by creating a “special” category of two-room flats for them. This simply adds insult to injury and stigmatises singles even further.

I fully empathise with her. Mind you — she is not asking for equal priority in flat allocation or more than her fair share of what other Singaporean couples are getting. Most singles actually do not expect a flat size bigger than a three-room flat or a larger quota of flats set aside for them.

The flats earmarked for singles will come in two sizes — 375 sq ft and 485 sq ft — which by the industry’s definition are shoebox units. Such units have been called “almost inhumane” by the former chief executive of Singapore’s top developer.

Young singles may be comfortable with these tiny units, but the singles in the 35-and-above group are mature adults, many with established careers. They have not bought an HDB resale flat because of the record-high prices and exorbitant cash-over-valuation premiums.

Indeed, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in last year’s National Day Rally acknowledged that singles face limited housing options owing to the rising prices of resale flats.

And it is no use telling these singles that they can apply for bigger flats as a family unit with their parents. All of them are aware of this. The fact that they have not done so must be down to personal reasons. It is a fact that our attitudes, values and personal needs change as we mature. Do we need to elaborate more?

It is bad enough that many singles feel aggrieved that some couples hang on to their HDB flats after upgrading to a private unit and use the rental income from the HDB unit to finance their new lifestyle.

The only good reason I can think of for building more two-room flats for singles is that the population is ageing fast and we want to ensure that there will be enough of such smaller flats to facilitate downgrading. If this is so, are we again sacrificing the needs of singles for the good of all other Singaporeans?

More importantly, why must our aged be shunted into shoebox units? As it is, most children and grandchildren do not visit their elders often enough. If the units are too cramped to accommodate visitors comfortably, even these rare visits will not last more than an hour.

Lest we forget, two-room flats come with only one bedroom. Having an extra room will mean that a caregiver can stay around with less inconvenience when the aged single falls sick or needs to be confined to bed. A teenage grandchild can come over to do homework and at the same time keep an eye on the sick grandparent.

The new elderly are also a lot more active. Instead of always going out, they may have their friends come over. This would be more economical and physically less demanding. I am no sociologist but we should be mindful about how physical infrastructure can change the way our community interacts — it should be the reverse.

As for the income ceiling of S$5,000, it is good to know that this cap may be tweaked in time to come. Just as there are couples who fall into the sandwiched class, there are also singles who fall into this category.

By Colin Tan – head of research and consultancy at Chesterton Suntec International

Source : Today – 15 Mar 2013

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