- There are Singaporeans who have fallen on hard times and genuinely need a rental flat.
- The waiting time for a rental flat is now 4 years.
- According to Minister Mah, many applicants do not actually need this rental flat, they have sufficient savings, have children with private property who can support them etc.
- Rules were introduced to weed out the people abusing the system and shorten the queue to about 1-2 years so that the genuine cases don't have to wait so long.
I was wondering how those people who are "genuinely in need" can actually wait 4 years in the first place but lets put this aside first. If the govt is too generous, many people will abuse these subsidized flats. If the govt is too strict, people who need help will not get it. If the govt expand the number of rental flats just to meet the demand, the govt is just throwing resources at the problem and that might lead to waste. No simple answers to this problem. What is the best tradeoff? Instead of queuing, we send people out to look for destitute...because as long as they are not destitute we can conclude they are not desperate?...Very optimal from a resource point of view, but not very humane, some people might have to go on their knees to beg a sibling they can't get along with for a room, or they might have to cut down on proper nutrition to rent a room from someone. ..and so on. Really no easy answers. Before I go deeper into the rental flats issue, lets take a step back and look at the bigger picture.
Ideally, we should aim for a society in which we educate people sufficiently well, make sure they are financially literate, have good morals and put them in an economy that will provide jobs that pay people well enough to afford their own homes. We want a healthy housing market with a good mix private and public housing - that serves the needs of everyone as long as they are willing to take up full time jobs, they should be able to afford a comfortable home for their family. If we are able to get to this ideal state, then the genuine demand for rental housing will be marginal. Some of you are tempted to call this a pipe dream but we came close in the mid-90s and late 80s(?) when the demand for rental flats actually fell as affluence rose among the general population.
Times are bad and demand for rental flats started rising again. The demand is fuelled in part by the ballooning income gap which makes it hard for the lower income group to own a flat even when they take up full time jobs. There is a growing class of temporary workers whose income is not stable. The HDB prefers not to build these rental flats because the opportunity cost is high - they prefer to sell $500K flats if they can. Now due to downgrading by those in financial difficulties the queue has grown to 4 years. What does the HDB do? HDB claims that there are many people in the queue who don't really need a rental flat so they introduce a new set of criteria to disqualify people from the queue - for example those who previously owned private property, or whose children own private property, will now be excluded under the new rules. Also, an application will be rejected if the applicant has a child who owns an HDB flat with a spare room.So think about it ...crisis hits business man loses everything sells his private house in desperation to pay his and goes to the HDB to apply for a rental flat. What do you think happens? Instead of not giving a rental flat to a person who don't needs it, it kicks a person who needs it out of the queue. You may think there is actually discretion on the part of the people who administer these rules...you will be surprised. These rules are applied mechanically and robotically leaving the person desperate ...take the case of this caller to 938Live.
Fearing that people will abuse the help, they implement rules that turn out to be obstacles for people who really need help. There is no equal fear of people needing help not getting it. These are not isolated examples the numbers who are hindered by these rules not insignificant. You have to ask yourself if a rule that prevents someone who has sold a private property from getting a rental property actually makes sense. Why would someone wants to sell his property at these distress prices ...? HDB thinks these people are doing it to cheat the govt of help in the form of rental flats....rather than selling because their businesses have failed or they have lost their jobs and cannot service their hefty loans. Another example is the help given at the CDC is for a limited period of a few months- the idea is to prevent people from being too reliant on CDC help. However, for people who face difficulties going beyond that period, the rules apply and they are turned away. In one case reported in the papers, the needy Singaporean became desperate and turned abusive shouting at the people at the CDC. A good samaritan saw what happened and followed her home dropping $100 into her mailbox to help her to get through the month.
Given the rate that things are deteriorating, the govt has to quickly figure out how to give help to those who need it directly. There is little merit in taking a 'wait and see' reactive approach because it is quite clear where there economy is headed. The govt like it or not will eventually have to give help to a large number of Singaporeans. But if they approach the issue of helping Singaporeans the same way they did with rental flats, fearing abuse instead of being worried about those in need not getting the help and refusing to allocate more resources to solve this problem, it can only result in more pain for Singaporeans. But what is the point of delaying the help when they have to dish it out later anyway? They can't be trying to save a few million at the risk of putting more families in jeopardy....it doesn't make sense even for the PAP.
Our exports have fallen off the cliff and I don't even have to tell you people how bad things are across almost every sector of the economy. The time for saving jobs is now over, it is now time to save people and families. You get an idea of how well the Jobs Credit Scheme has done by reading at the Straits Times - they ought to be about to find positive examples of jobs saved by this scheme to build confidence - I don't see many such stories....all I hear of is the deluge of retrenchments, and thousands of people turning up for a handful job openings at job fairs. If plan A was to save jobs, plan B has to be about saving people. The PAP govt spent $4.5B on the JCS giving money to all companies even the companies that don't need it...to make sure that all those companies that need it also get some help. When we need to do plan B, I hope they also remember this - when you want to help as many people who need help as possible, you really have to take away all the unnecessary obstacles to this help.