Prime Location Public Housing (PLH) – Singles are Second-Class Citizens, Yet Again

Ministry of National Development (MND) has announced another acronym that has riled property-obsessed Singaporeans. Prime Location Public Housing (PLH) will see HDB flats built in prime locations having stricter resale and rental rules with an aim to curb high property prices in these areas. This is to improve affordability and encourage homeowners to stay in their properties rather than monetise it for income.

Sounds reasonable, but I can’t remember the last time I had such a strong aversion to a new government policy.

Why PLH?

PLH is in line with the government’s plans to build housing in prime locations rather than leaving it completely to private developers. In doing so, the government states its aim to keep housing, even in prime neighbourhoods, accessible and inclusive for Singaporeans and not just the wealthier ones.

MND has thus introduced stricter resale and rental rules which would make such properties more for the owner’s own occupancy rather than monetisation through rental and/or resale.

For PLH flats bought from HDB: more restrictive Minimum Occupation Period and rental rules

CategoryBTO HDBsPLH HDBs
Minimum Occupation Period (MOP)5 years10 years
Purchase of private propertyAllowed after MOPAllowed after MOP
Renting out of spare roomsAllowedAllowed
Renting out of whole flatAllowed after MOPNot allowed

Doubling of the MOP is clearly a big impediment for those who are looking to buy, then flip their properties after the MOP is over. Rental is also restricted to only spare rooms, even after the MOP.

For buyers of resale PLH: added eligibility conditions

ConditionsTypical Resale HDBsPLH HDBs
CitizenshipAt least one applicant is a SC or SPR.
Household can comprise only SPRs.
At least one applicant is a Singapore citizen (SC).
Household must comprise at least one SC and one Singapore permanent resident (SPR).
 
 Family Nucleus
Must have an eligible family nucleus, or singles aged 35 and above. 
Must have an eligible family nucleus, e.g. married couple.
Income CeilingNot applicablePrevailing income ceiling ($14,000)
Private Property OwnershipAllowed, but must dispose of private property within six months of buying the resale flat.Must not own or have an interest in a private property and have not disposed of any in the last 30 months.

Unnecessarily punitive for singles

I have very little negative things to say about the main thrust of the policy which encourages homebuyers to actually live in their homes rather than treat it as an asset to generate wealth. Singapore has limited land space, and ever-increasing property prices are pricing people out of home ownership. The time for residential property to be a cash cow for those who can afford it has to come to an end sooner rather than later.

Preventing singles from purchasing resale PLH flats, however, seems unnecessarily punitive. These are single parents, members of the homosexual community, or people who simply haven’t been that lucky in finding a life partner, and it’s reasonable to say that such circumstances are largely beyond one’s control. Already, the barriers to entry for singles seeking homeownership are high enough. One needs to be at least 35 years old to even purchase HDBs, and even then you can only qualify for 2-room BTOs. The general lack of restrictions in buying resale HDBs gives singles a chance to afford an apartment of one’s liking, but it is pricier than BTOs. The introduction of PLH as it is rubs salt on wound.

What nation-building goal does this achieve?

Moreover, does restricting singles from purchasing such flats even help achieve the government’s stated aims of such a policy? MND’s press release states that such a scheme is underpinned by HDB’s core values of “affordability, accessibility and inclusivity”. I can’t say whether affordability would be significantly affected by such a restriction and the government should perhaps explain its position on this matter, but I think it’s clear how painfully ironic that the word “inclusivity” is included.

As I age and my anti-establishment feelings mellow, I understand the need to prioritise the nation’s needs above that of individuals, and I think most people do too. We need babies and families, of course, so we generally defer to the government, however begrudgingly, because we understand that there is a greater good to achieve. Waiting till 35 to buy isn’t the most ideal, but it’s not that bad. But the messaging here seems to be unambiguously discriminatory: single and/or not heteronormative? You’re not fit to live in a prime location. You’d even find it difficult to rent an apartment in a prime area if you want to, again no thanks to PLH’s rental restrictions.

Housing in Singapore has been designed to prevent racial enclaves from forming, but segregation based on marital status is seemingly the effect here, unintentionally or otherwise. It is a bad policy, and I hope that the powers that be reverses their decision. While I have my reservations whether petitions work, Minister for National Development Desmond Lee has mentioned that PLH isn’t set in stone, and perhaps enough signatories might effect some change.

Tap here to sign the petition; we have to try at least. Even if you’re not single, PLH owners will find it more difficult to sell their flats in future if an entire segment of buyers are excluded from purchasing.

It should go without saying that singles and people from “non-traditional families” are residents and citizens of Singapore too, but alas we have to state it again. We contribute to the work force, pay our taxes, and sometimes cry into our pillows on lonely nights. We deserve a little more than being treated like second-class citizens, at least not so blatantly.

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