The story of the HDB is in many ways the story of the People’s Action Party.
For decades, the story has been this: Give the PAP your votes and your support and we will make sure you have a roof over your head, a HDB home and an asset which keeps growing and growing in value.
Lee Kuan Yew, fond of calling Singaporeans “daft,” had used the label more than once in relation to HDB. In 2010, he said: “No country in the world has given its citizens an asset as valuable as what we’ve given every family here. And if you say that policy is at fault, you must be daft.”
Then the HDB story started unravelling last year when National Development Minister Lawrence Wong admitted: “As the leases run down, especially towards the tail-end, the flat prices will come down correspondingly.”
Boom! It hit HDB owners and dwellers – more than 80% of the population – like a ton of bricks.
The Minister has since tried to walk back those remarks – but to no avail. He was speaking the truth then and the truth is scary to people: Their HDB flat will continually dwindle in value, eventually going down to zero when the lease expires.
In his National Day rally, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong came up with HDB sweeteners but they seemed hastily put together as a stop gap measure and a knee jerk reaction to the overwhelming sentiment of the people.
Now, PM Lee also dismisses the idea that the HDB lease is an extended rental and not a sale, saying that many private properties are also on 99-year lease.
But veteran architect Tay Kheng Soon has pointed out that there is a fundamental difference – unlike HDB flats, leasehold private properties come with a strata title which means property owners have a share of the land where their apartment or condo sits on. With no strata title, HDB ‘owners’ therefore have no share of the land their flat sits on and this has given rise to the notion that it is akin to extended rental.
The other difference is of course the fact that many owners of leasehold private properties have profited hugely and become instant millionaires through en bloc sale.
The tide appears to have turned for the HDB story. In all likelihood, the PAP never set out to mislead the people. But for many decades, it overhyped the home ownership scheme and oversold HDB flats as a rock solid asset that could only grow and grow in value over time. Anyone who disagreed was called “daft.”
Now it is all starting to unravel and the PAP has its hands full trying to do damage limitation.
The HDB is the hottest of hot button issues because the flat is the prized possession of many.
People used to go to bed thinking that when they wake up, their HDB home would have risen in value. Now they go to sleep worrying that their flat would be worth less with each passing day.