More BTO flats with shorter waiting times in coming years: Desmond Lee

Flats that have shorter waiting times are those already in the midst of being built when they are launched. ST PHOTO: SHINTARO TAY

SINGAPORE – In the coming years, the Housing Board will increase the proportion of Build-To-Order (BTO) flats with waiting times of under three years as part of the supply of new flats.

But it will take at least two years for this to happen, as the priority now is to launch flats to meet urgent housing demand, following the severe disruption in the last two years caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, said National Development Minister Desmond Lee.

Flats that have shorter waiting times are those already in the midst of being built when they are launched.

While the HDB launched around 7,200 flats with shorter waiting times in the last two years, the momentum for building these has slowed because of the urgency of meeting the current high housing demand and disruption caused by the pandemic.

“But after we get over this hurdle, this hump, we aim to tilt the balance of supply in the mid to longer term,” said Mr Lee, in a recent interview with The Sunday Times and Lianhe Zaobao.

“That has been the trajectory even before Covid-19, to build more shorter-waiting-time flats to complement the BTO supply, which would take anywhere from three to five years, depending on location and complexity.”

Flats with shorter waiting times were introduced in 2018, when supply then could adequately meet demand. Unlike these, whose construction starts ahead of their launch, standard BTO flats commence construction only after their launch. To date, close to 11,000 flats with shorter waiting times have been launched.

“We can do that because other launches meet demand, so you’re able to build ahead of demand for some. It is necessary to have a balance of these kinds of approaches as the BTO supply allows us to calibrate the usage of land, resources and launch units based on projected demand and the balance flats up for open selection,” said Mr Lee.

The proportion of shorter and standard waiting time flats will also be adjusted over time, although shorter waiting time flats are expected to be in the minority.

“Exactly what equilibrium we will land at, I don’t want to jump the gun because the focus now is really to address the current situation of accessibility, in particular,” said Mr Lee.

The ramping up of such flats also depends on the availability of land, as Singapore has fewer greenfield sites, which are available to be built on immediately, said Mr Lee.

More sites are now brownfields, so there is a waiting time for the land lease to lapse and for the existing user to move out, or there may be delays for other various reasons, he said.

The HDB is also piloting advanced construction technology in a bid to shorten waiting times posed by construction.

This comes even as the HDB constructs more complex buildings with amenities and greenery incorporated in, said Mr Lee, citing Garden Waterfront I & II @ Tengah BTO project, launched in November 2022, as an example.

Flats in the two Tengah projects are Singapore’s first beamless flats, which allows more flexibility for home owners to configure their layout, and have a waiting time of three years and four months.

Mr Lee also addressed the issue of BTO flat pricing and subsidies given to buyers, which was raised multiple times in recent months, including in Parliament.

In November, Leader of the Opposition Pritam Singh had pressed Second Minister for National Development and Finance Indranee Rajah for details of the development costs of BTO flats and subsidies provided to buyers. The minister responded that it was not meaningful to provide such information, as what mattered was whether people could afford a flat.

Following that exchange, netizens called for the HDB to be more transparent about the way it prices new flats.

In response, the HDB provided a breakdown on Dec 7 of development costs, which include land and building costs.

Mr Lee said data such as the HDB’s deficit, construction costs, sales proceeds collected and prices of BTO flats along with their comparable HDB resale prices are all publicly available, but the challenge lies in putting out data that serves a purpose.

“What Minister Indranee said is when you give data project by project, floor by floor, unit by unit, and the numbers are in the tens of thousands and you put 10,000 figures out there, is there some meaningful comparison that can be made?” he said.

“The meaningful comparison, to me, is that prices have remained relatively stable for flats of the same attributes and roughly in the same location. You don’t have wild fluctuations.”

To achieve that, the HDB applies different subsidies on BTO flats even though their comparable resale prices have risen starkly over the last two years, said Mr Lee.

“Unfortunately, the impression has been given that we are not transparent. But the numbers are there, and we will continue to give out meaningful numbers that people can use to compare and have a sense of how much the Government spends in order to ensure housing affordability,” he said.

“Source:[More BTO flats with shorter waiting times in coming years: Desmond Lee] © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Permission required for reproduction”

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