By categorically stating that the fundamental reason as to why HDB flats only have a 99 year lease on them is to prevent social division is surely simplifying the matter. In his National Day Rally address, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (PM Lee) said that the leases of HDB flats expire so that Singapore will not run out of land to build flats for future generations. He also noted that this would enable blocks of flats to be upgraded when required.
While his comments do have a logic behind it, it falls flat in the face of the high costs of HDB flats to begin with. It is not as if, HDB flats in Singapore are dead cheap. They aren't. In fact, some flats have price tags attached to them that private houses do not have. If the government really wants to regulate social equality from a housing perspective, it has to regulate the prices at which HDB flats trade hands for. It also has to ensure that the prices of brand new flats remain affordable. In this, it is important to note that HDB flats are not free and the question is whether or not the price tags attached to these flats are worth more than 99 years?
At this juncture, it is also worthwhile to remember that despite PM Lee's claims of upgrading, there have been an increased number of shoddy work revealed in HDB estates in the last few years. An example would be the number of lift accidents which have surfaced. This was even raised in Parliament!
Is the price attached to a 99 year lease with the possibility of poor workmanship worth the price that Singaporeans are forced to pay?
If HDB flats are indeed meant to be a social equaliser to ensure that everyone has a roof over their heads, then the price has to reflect it. Now, we have a situation whereby we "own" the flats we live in for 99 years and pay for it as if we really own it. Why doesn't the government step up and be a landlord then? That way, it owns everything and maintains everything while inhabitants pay rent. That way, things are a lot more clear and there isn't the concern of having slogged your whole life to pay off the mortgage for a flat that you cannot leave to your children. Make it straightforward. You don't own your flat. The government does. You just pay a monthly rent without all the additional headache of having to use your CPF, getting bank loans or the false understanding that you own that flat when in truth, you don't.
Wouldn't this work better from the government perspective of controlling land usage and upgrading? At the same time, people wouldn't have to slog so hard to "own" a property.