Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (PM Lee) has defended the 99 year lease of Housing Development Board (HDB ) flats by remarking that he found the argument by some commentators "frankly amazing", as many private properties are also held on 99-year leases but no one argues they are merely being rented. While I agree that there are a significant number of private properties held on 99-year lease terms, the difference between these private properties and HDB flats is the intention behind these properties and how they are marketed.
HDB flats are being sold to us on the premise that it is the government's promise of home ownership to us. We are told that this is the way the government is providing for us and looking after us. It is marketed to us as a form of altruism on the part of the government. Private properties are quite simply sold for profit to people who want the prestige of living in condominiums with facilities. It therefore does not sit right to say that it is okay for HDB flats to be sold for 99 years because private properties are sold on the same terms. HDB flats are meant to be government subsidised to help its citizens. It is not meant to be sold for profit along similar lines as private properties.
This is why HDB flats are judged on a much stricter standard than that of private properties. There are no expectations on the motives of private developers. Their sole goal is profit. HDB flats on the other hand are meant to be our rights as citizens given that their building is funded by state coffers (in other words public money). Private housing building is funded privately by the developer. Why then is PM Lee so amazed that people aren't comparing HDB flats with private properties? Frankly, I am surprised that he is surprised! How misguided is he?
The government is known to use the carrot of upgrading HDB flats to garner public goodwill. This further solidifies the conclusion that HDB flats are government controlled benefits to Singaporeans. Given that the government is so involved in the entire HDB scheme, why can't it admit that in reality it is a long lease to HDB flat owners? It doesn't go against the grain of providing governmental housing to Singaporeans. Even if it is marketed as "rented" the government has still fulfilled its promise of providing housing. It can't compare itself with private developers when it comes to "sale" terms but then still claim altruism which private developers do not.
If HDB owners are still unsure, take a look at your contract with HDB which highlights the terms and conditions that you have to abide by. Is that a title deed or a lease?