Saturday, December 18, 2010
Elaboration on answers to Housing Issues @ TOC Forum
I was invited to be one of the panelists at TOC end of year event, Face-to-Face Forum on 16 Dec 2010. Housing issues became one of the hottest again.
Due to time constrains, I have given key points and short answers to the questions asked. I would like to elaborate further here on what I have said during the forum.
The first question asked was whether HDB should be privatized. My first response is that it should not. HDB is part of a socialist Land Reform program. Due to scarcity of land in Singapore, it is important for us to avoid land hogging by a small group of landlords while the masses and future generations suffer. The fall of the ancient feudal systems was basically due to the income and wealth inequality partly exaggerated by the unequal distribution of land.
Thus it is important for the government to act as an arbitrator in making sure that land can be recycled over generations for public usage like housing. The 99-year leasehold HDB flats are part of this scheme to maintain sustainability of land usage across generations. Privatizing HDB will not do us good. It will most probably result in higher prices for HDB flats due to the profit maximizing nature of a private entity.
The second question about HDB is on what will happen to those who have paid hefty prices for their HDB flats but now I am advocating lower HDB prices. I explained that the HDB has two market segments. First, we have the NEW HDB flat market and second, the resale market. The government, via HDB, is the sole monopoly of supply in the NEW HDB flat market. The demand comes from citizens only. The resale market is basically a free market where sellers are those who own HDB flats (both PRs and Citizens) and buyers from both PRs and citizens as well.
The government has FULL CONTROL over the New Flat market as the monopoly. It should sell these flats at cost to Singaporeans as I have explained earlier that our forefathers have sacrificed their land for the development of this Nation. It is the unwritten social contract that the government in return should take care of Singaporeans' basic public housing needs.
On the other hand, the government should not meddle or distort the resale market, which is a free market by giving grants to first timers. This is a bit "counter-intuitive" which results in people calling it a "radical view" but it is not!
The rational is very simple. Just taking an analogy of a fireman trying to put out a fire. Will he add oil to the fire? Obviously not. If there is a pipe leaking oil to the fire, what will he do? Obviously, it is to stop the leakage.
Money and easy credit are just like fuel to the fire of high prices. Giving grants to first timers to buy resale flat is an act of market distortion to increase the demand of resale market. There are a few implications:
1) The present system is such that the NEW HDB flats prices are pegged at the resale market prices. It is naturally for the government to want to maintain a high Resale prices.
2) The grants given to first timers have to come from somewhere. i.e. from the higher prices of New HDB flats. At the same time, resale levy is charged on those who sold their flats and apply for new flats.
3) It is basically a scheme that goes round about, self-feeding itself to maintain or push up the prices of HDB flats, both resale and new HDB flats.
4) Such grants coupled with easy credit and low interest rates will encourage more young couples to OVER COMMIT themselves. If these young couples, in spite of low interest rate of 1.5% or less from private banks need to commit 30 years loans to buy their resale flats, they will be in trouble if interest rates rise in future! That will become Singapore's Subprime!
My proposal of a new system is:
1) Sell NEW HDB flats at cost.
2) Don't meddle in the free resale market by removing the grants.
Many youngsters may scream at the second point. I would advise them to take a step back and ponder. The proposal is a package. New young couples will have a far CHEAPER OPTION of having their first new HDB flat when it is sold at cost.
After you get your first HDB flat at CHEAP price, it will provide you a good financial position to get your resale HDB flat later on. My concern now is that too many young couples are over committing themselves by going for resale HDB flats. This will add financial burden to the new families and in the end, you may not have enough finances to have babies.
It is also an important thing to show to young couples that it is more worthwhile to buy NEW HDB flats with a big difference in the prices. If young couples are to be lured into resale HDB flats with the HDB grant and resulting in over committing themselves, a 30 years mortgage loan starting at low interest rate but going up later one, most people will be forced to sell their flats for retirement in the end!
However, I also caution that our only HDB flat is OUR HOME and SHOULD NOT BE VIEWED AS INVESTMENT. A HOME is not something you can sell off that easily. Each and every corners of your HOME are embedded with the collective memories of your family members.
I am asked about how I am going to make such "unpopular" idea to Singaporeans. I just replied, we just have to make it "popular". We should be careful about politicians trying to sell you GREED and be populist. My generation as well as my father's generation has been hoodwinked by PAP's sales of GREED through "ASSET ENHANCEMENT SCHEME". Who suffers in the end? My generation, the younger generation as well as future generations.
Two years ago, nobody would have thought that the campaign on HDB issues would be fruitful. Nobody believes that I could convince so many people that the HIGH HDB PRICES IS BAD FOR THEM. Nobody sees the bad points of 30-year mortgage for HDB flats. With the help of the online media, blogs and networking tools, we have managed to get the message viral. Many people are talking about the ills of the 30-year mortgage. I strongly believe that I can go a step further to bring forth my point about my "instinctively unfavorable" or even "politically incorrect" policy views that this is the best way for Singapore's future generations.
Of course, for those who have committed at high HDB prices, I just have to remind them that it is PAP who makes them suffer with such bad policy. Look on the bright side. Just like many people of my generations who were caught in the late 1990s property boom and subsequent bust, as long as we treat our flat as our HOME, whether the price went up or down, it didn't affect us, even when we became negative asset holders. On top of that, in my proposal, the resale market will be allowed to grow on its own. In the long run, the HDB resale prices will still grow although in a relatively slower pace.
One sensitive HDB issue was raised by M Ravi on the ethnic quota. It is a well-known fact that ethnic quota restrictions affect the minority races adversely.
I went a bit further to say that the present restriction may have impact on ethnic economy. Look at Tampines. It has a bigger proportion of Malay community of 24%. Tampines has the most number of Muslim coffeeshops as compared to other places. There are even shops selling Malay traditional clothing. A critical mass congregation of the minority ethnic group will provide more opportunities for their ethnic entrepreneurs to strive.
Thus in my view, I have no problem with any precincts or groupings with less than 50% composition of the minority races. Why not more than 50%? If the minority race becomes the majority composition of a precinct, that would mean statistically, it has become a big outlier!
I have not mentioned the lower band. My proposal is to have a band, instead of a tight rule of 25%. The band will range from 15% to 45%. It also means that the Chinese majority race cannot exceed 85% of the composition in any precincts.
Many people would suggest to get rid of the ethnic quota once and for all. I do not favor that but instead, take a progressive step towards that aim. I have spoken to foreign visitors from Australia, Sri Lanka and other places on Earth and they admire our racial policies in this aspect. It is something that we may have taken for granted for all this while. But a relax of such rules may foster better ties and lessen the price that any ethnic groups may suffer as the result of the ethnic quota rule.
I hope that these elaborations on my comments and responses given during the TOC Face to Face Forum will provide more insight into the policy rationale behind them.
Goh Meng Seng