Avoid speculating in hope of a ‘big payout’: Lawrence Wong

It would be “unproductive” to play up expectations of homeowners due to the recently announced Voluntary Early Redevelopment Scheme (VERS) – a scheme to take back old Housing Board flats before their leases end, said National Development Minister Lawrence Wong on Tuesday (Aug 21).

“All of us, including the media, (have) to make sure that we don’t play up expectations of the market or … get people all excited and too overly exuberant … thinking that this will help to prop up the resale market,” he told reporters at the sidelines of a REACH feedback forum.

They should also avoid speculating in the market hoping for a “big payout at the end of the day”, he said, adding that the Government will try its best to manage expectations.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had announced at the National Day Rally on Sunday that the Government will take back some Housing and Development Board (HDB) flats starting from when they reach 70 years old to redevelop the housing estates.

Homeowners will get to vote on whether they want to move out and will receive compensation if their flats are taken back, Mr Lee had said. However, details of the scheme are still being worked out and it will only be implemented in about 20 years’ time.

Mr Lee had also announced that each Housing Board flat will be upgraded twice under the Home Improvement Programme (HIP) II.

On Tuesday, Mr Wong added that the Selective En Bloc Redevelopment Scheme (SERS) will continue to run its course until all remaining sites with high development potential have been cleared.

According to the HDB’s estimates, only about 5 per cent of flats are suitable for SERS.

“There are still more to go but we will eventually reach the limit … once we do that, we will transit to a VERS programme,” Mr Wong said.

He added that the Government will be seeking more feedback on proposed changes to housing policies before the schemes are fine-tuned.

Mr Wong was speaking to reporters after a feedback session conducted by REACH on the National Day Rally. The evening’s discussion, which attracted more than 130 participants, ranged from concerns about the cost of living, to housing and foreign relations.

Addressing the concerns of a forum participant about social divisiveness which could arise when polling is done for VERS, Mr Wong said: “I acknowledge that in this case, stakes are higher … but we have some experience and we will have time to study how to work out the exact mechanisms and how to go about doing it without causing too much division or without creating acrimony within the block itself.”

Leadership renewal for the Government was another area highlighted at the forum chaired by Mr Sam Tan, REACH chairman and Minister of State for Foreign Affairs and for Social and Family Development.

A forum participant asked whether the long-term plans laid out during the National Day Rally can be fulfilled by the next prime minister.

In response, Mr Wong said it is “quite unique” that Singapore is able to plan so far into the future.

“I don’t know of any other country that is planning and thinking about urban rejuvenation at the scale that we are talking about. So this is indeed a long-term plan. It has never been done anywhere in the world. It is going to be more challenging than our first phase of building HDB,” he said.

“But we have a plan and now the key is for the Government and the people to work together to bring about and realise these plans,” he added.

On the Lease Buyback Scheme, which was recently expanded to include all HDB flats, Mr Wong said that the take-up rate is “not very high” but it gives elderly homeowners peace of mind should they need to unlock some value from their property for retirement.

“It’s not really about the numbers because not everybody may want to take up this option … But making the option available to every flat owner will … give assurance that whatever happens … there’s always this option that you can exercise,” he added.

Source: Channel NewsAsia – 22 Aug 2018

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