More options for ‘homeless’?

MPs suggest using Govt buildings as interim housing, more levels of rental subsidies

IF WE can make space for foreign workers in disused schools, why can’t we do the same for Singaporeans in desperate need of housing, suggested a Member of Parliament yesterday. Why not use unoccupied Government buildings as interim housing for the “homeless”, asked MP for Sembawang GRC Lim Wee Kiak.

He was referring to Singaporeans who, because of extreme financial difficulty, find themselves with negative equity after selling their flats. They do not have the means to buy another flat, nor qualify for rental housing because their household income is more than $1,500 and renting a Housing and Development Board (HDB) flat on the open market would be too expensive.

Parliamentary Secretary for National Development Maliki Osman acknowledged that the issue of HDB mortgage arrears has surfaced in many meet-the-people sessions due to the uncertain economic outlook, but clarified that “compulsory acquisition is a last resort, after all other avenues have been exhausted”.

As of last month, there were 33,000 flat owners with arrears of three months or more, making up less than 8 per cent of the 420,000 households with outstanding loans. This number has remained stable over the past year, said Dr Maliki.

He explained that home owners who have problems financing their mortgages can turn to HDB’s reduced re-payment scheme. “We can offer between 25 and 50 per cent reduced payment for six months, and sometimes we go all the way to two years,” he said.

But, he added, the reduced repayment scheme is only a short-term solution. For those with “difficulties in the longer term”, they would be better off selling their flats.

Interim housing is, however, a “last option”, he said.

“We don’t envisage a situation where we have a large exodus of displaced individuals and families where we have to house them in temporary housing,” he said.

MP for Aljunied GRC Cynthia Phua disagreed, saying she still sees four to five people who are unable to meet their mortgages during her weekly meet-the-people sessions, pointing to a real need for “alternative housing” for this group.

“Most of the cases cannot afford to downgrade. Where do you want them to go?” she said. She asked if the National Development Ministry could implement different levels of subsidies for rental flats.

Dr Maliki said his ministry is working on “a multi-prong” approach to address the shortage of two- and three-room flats, with more units expected to be built over the next two years.

As for more subsidies, he said there was a limit to how much the Government could provide.

Source : Today – 19 Nov 2008

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