HDB flats approaching end of lease (MND – COS)

If the Government does not have any specific plans for flats when their leases expire, I think it should make this clear to the public, so that buyers can factor this in when choosing a resale flat, and they don’t pay too high a premium for older flats.

This speech today was a follow up to a Parliamentary Question I asked in January, regarding the value of HDB flats at the end of their 99-year lease. I will post the Minister’s reply next week once it is out on the Hansard.

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Madam,

Government leaders have, over the years, frequently told Singaporeans that their HDB flats are an asset which they can monetise during retirement. However, less frequent are the reminders that, as a flat approaches the end of its 99-year lease, its asset value will depreciate to zero.

While most Singaporeans know that their flats are on a limited lease, many assume that HDB will not let their assets become worth nothing, or that their flats will eventually go through an “en bloc” before their leases expire.

The Minister told me in a reply to my PQ in January that the selection of sites and the pace of SERS (the Selective En Bloc Redevelopment Scheme) will depend on factors such as their redevelopment potential, and the availability of replacement sites for rehousing, and other resources.

Can the Minister confirm whether all old flats will eventually be replaced through SERS before they reach their end of lease? If not, what proportion will be not be replaced?

Other than SERS, what are the Government’s plans for HDB flats that approach their end-of-lease? For example, will their leases get topped up, and will the topping up cost be borne by HDB, or the lessees?

There are now over 31,000 flats which are more than 40 years into their lease. I’m sure many young couples are still buying these resale flats, which would mean that the leases may end within their lifetimes.

If the Government does not have any specific plans for flats when their leases expire, I think it should make this clear to the public, so that buyers can factor this in when choosing a resale flat, and they don’t pay too high a premium for older flats.

Ensuring indoor air quality during occurrence of haze

On 8 July 2013, Parliament debated the Government’s response to the perennial haze problem. These are the questions I asked the Minister for National Development and Minister for the Environment and Water Resources, and their responses (Part 3 of 3).

On 8 July 2013, Parliament debated the Government’s response to the perennial haze problem. These are the questions I asked the Minister for National Development and Minister for the Environment and Water Resources, and their responses (Part 3 of 3).

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Mr Gerald Giam Yean Song asked the Minister for National Development during this haze period, whether BCA is taking any steps to inspect the air-conditioning and mechanical systems of commercial and industrial buildings to ensure that the indoor air in these buildings does not contain an unhealthy level of contaminants.

The Senior Minister of State for National Development (Mr Lee Yi Shyan) (for the Minister for National Development): Mdm Speaker, under the Building Control Act and Regulations, building designs are required to comply with the performance requirements for fresh air intake and air change specified in the Singapore Standard called SS553. This is the Code of Practice for Air-conditioning and Mechanical Ventilation in Buildings. The design standard in SS553, such as air change and fresh air intake, are based on the standards published by the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE), which are internationally recognised standards.

After any buildings are completed, building owners are responsible for the operation and maintenance of the buildings. For office buildings, building owners may refer to NEA’s “Good Indoor Air Quality in Office Premises” guidelines and Singapore Standards SS554, which is the Code of Practice for Indoor Air Quality for Air-conditioned Buildings. The SS554’s requirements are also aligned with international best practice. For example, guidelines on filters to protect building occupants from airborne particulate matter are aligned with test methods published by ASHRAE.

The recent extreme haze level was unprecedented. The 24-hour PSI hit a high of 246, while the previous high was 142 in 1994. At such a high level of outdoor pollution, the building owners may have to monitor its indoor air quality and take steps to minimise open contact with the outdoor fresh air and also to take steps to maintain air filters more frequently if the haze is a prolonged situation.

We have earlier commissioned a multi-agency team – involving NEA, BCA, MOM, MOH and MSF and local research institutes – to review the indoor air quality of various premises to determine if the current Codes of Practice need to be further refined. More measures may be introduced based on this study.

Mr Gerald Giam Yean Song: Mdm Speaker, I appreciate the Senior Minister of State’s explanation of the regulations in place. My question was: During this period of the haze, were there any extra steps to enforce or monitor building owners to ensure that they actually do what they are supposed to do.

Mr Lee Yi Shyan: Mdm Speaker, I would just like to clarify that, currently, both BCA and NEA have no regulations on indoor air quality per se. What NEA has introduced is a code of best practices that building owners would want to adhere to for maintaining their air conditioning in office buildings. These are guidelines.

Instead of running the risk of over-legislation, we have to, in this instance, depend on the indoor users — the office workers and those people working in the air-conditioning environment — to take some responsibility and make sure that they provide feedback to the owners and the facility managers for building maintenance.

So this is a premise that we are working on and it has worked well. Whether we would want to refine subsequent best practices for indoor air quality, we will have to wait for the technical study that is being carried out. Necessarily, we would require quite a bit of data support to establish the difference between outdoor and indoor air quality. And, of course, as a technical standard, the Member will appreciate that it has to be implementable and also measurable when we publish the standards.

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ADVICE ON WAYS TO REDUCE LEVEL OF INDOOR AIR POLLUTION

Mr Gerald Giam Yean Song asked the Minister for the Environment and Water Resources (a) whether the Ministry can provide more advice to parents with young children (including newborns) and pregnant women on how to reduce indoor air pollution levels; and (b) what advice can the Ministry provide to households, childcare centres, kindergartens and schools on the appropriate types of air cleaning devices that may be needed to reduce the level of indoor air pollutants during the haze period.

Dr Vivian Balakrishnan: During the smoke haze episodes, the main air pollutant of concern is particulate matter.

When the outdoor haze situation deteriorates, young children and pregnant women are advised to stay indoors and reduce their activities. Doors and windows should be closed to reduce the entry of outdoor air pollutants. Fans and air conditioners could be helpful for air circulation. Any activity that generates more particles and particulate matter indoors such as cigarette/cigar/pipe-smoking, burning of candles, vacuuming, dry dusting and sweeping should be avoided.

During the periods of haze, air cleaners may be helpful in households, kindergartens and childcare centres. There are three main types of air cleaners which remove particulate matter: mechanical air filters, electrostatic precipitators and ionisers. Ozone-generating cleaners should be avoided as ground-level ozone is a harmful pollutant. As soon as the outdoor air quality improves to healthy levels, windows could be opened to enhance natural ventilation.

More information is available at the NEA Haze website at www.haze.gov.sg.

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Source: Singapore Parliament Reports (Hansard)

Govt concedes argument with WP and Singaporeans

The opposition MPs in Hougang and Potong Pasir, who have been serving their residents for 18 years and 25 years respectively, have a far more distinguished track record of “concrete actions” serving their residents than the Johnny-come-lately PAP challengers, who are very good at plastering their faces all over the ward and claiming credit for things they never did.

Since the ill-advised announcement by the so-called PAP “grassroots advisers” of Hougang and Potong Pasir about the Lift Upgrading Programme (LUP) in the two opposition-held wards, the Minister for National Development has had to answer three letters to the Straits Times to justify their stand on the issue. Two of those letters were in response to Workers’ Party leaders Low Thia Khiang and Sylvia Lim, and one was to a public-spirited Singaporean, Muhammad Yusuf Osman.

In his latest letter (copied below), the spokesman of National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan wrote: “We do not expect the Workers’ Party to accept these basic facts, and we will agree to disagree.”

In saying this, the Minister is basically conceding that his argument holds no water, and he has no more points to add that could better justify the PAP’s politically-motivated stand.

Continue reading “Govt concedes argument with WP and Singaporeans”

WP rebuts Minister on lift upgrading

This shows the respect the government has for the people’s choice of Member of Parliament, who is vested with the Constitutional mandate to represent the constituency.

The Workers’ Party’s rebuttal published in the Straits Times today.

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I refer to the reply from the Minister for National Development’s Press Secretary on Tuesday entitled: “Ministry: MP Low wrong on lift upgrading”. I am responding to it as Mr Low Thia Khiang is currently out of town.

MND states that HDB’s letter published last Friday “should be read in conjunction with” the Minister’s earlier explanations to the media. This impliedly acknowledges that the reason given by HDB to Mr Muhd Yusuf Osman, who had pointedly asked why protocol seemed to be ignored when HDB worked with the unelected candidates in opposition wards to announce LUP plans rather than with the elected MPs, does not stand up to scrutiny.
It is not disputed that the LUP is a government programme. After all, it is to rectify a design flaw in public housing which does not cater for an ageing society. Given this imperative, the public interest should trump politics.

Mr Low’s letter was not about wanting credit for the programme. He has stated that he is prepared to work with the government’s appointees for the benefit of his constituents, and indeed has met the grassroots advisor several times over many months to give input on the LUP plans for Hougang.

It was HDB’s unjustifiable answer to Mr Yusuf – that the grassroots advisor was more appropriate than the MP to announce the LUP plans because he was able to gather residents’ input and marshal support for the plans – which compelled Mr Low’s response. HDB should have just given the real reason in its letter and not beat around the bush.

MND’s letter goes further to state that the LUP is funded from budget surpluses which Opposition MPs are not responsible for generating. However, the budget surpluses are hardly the effort of the government alone, as they include significant contributions from the public through taxes, levies and stamp fees, which the government simply reaps.

Finally, MND also appears to interpret the General Elections as an event where the only outcome which matters is who forms the government. This shows the respect the government has for the people’s choice of Member of Parliament, who is vested with the Constitutional mandate to represent the constituency.

SYLVIA LIM (Ms)
CHAIRMAN,
WORKERS’ PARTY

Parliament debates HDB rental flats, upgrading, e-engagement and Gaza crisis

PARLIAMENT on Friday [6 Feb] debated the budgets of three ministries – Foreign Affairs, National Development, and Information, Communications and the Arts.

Ministry of National Development

Mr Low Thia Khiang (WP-Hougang) queried the Minister for National Development about the recent demolition of flats on Hougang Avenue 7. He lamented that the demolition took place just seven years after Hougang Town Council used its own funds to upgrade the lifts in those flats. (Hougang, being an opposition ward, is at end of the queue for the Lift Upgrading Programme [LUP]. The LUP expenses for PAP wards are typically borne by HDB with small co-payments by the local town council and residents.)

Mr Low remarked that much of the money was wasted because of the early demolition. He said that in future, HDB should inform the Town Council earlier of its redevelopment plans, lest such waste took place again.

In her initial response, Senior Minister of State (National Development) Grace Fu, skimmed over the issue. Mr Low later pressed Ms Fu for an answer, adding that HDB ought to reimburse Hougang Town Council for the money that went to waste.

Ms Fu reiterated the Government’s earlier commitment to complete the LUP by 2014. Given the time needed to complete the works, HDB would have to make their selections and announcements of contractors by 2011.

Regarding the flat demolitions, the Senior Minister of State explained that HDB regularly reviews its land use, and that her Ministry “can’t tell seven years in advance” of redevelopment plans – “not even seven months”.Mr Masagos Zulkifli (PAP-Tampines) and Mdm Ho Geok Choo (PAP-West Coast) asked the Minister about the shortage of subsidised HDB rental flats for needy residents.

Minister for National Development Mah Bow Tan revealed that there were currently 4,550 applicants in the queue for subsidised rental flats. He said that “two-thirds of them have reasons not to be in the queue”. He cited examples of retirees who had no income but significant savings from the sale of their flats, yet qualified for rental flats. His ministry’s solution to this housing crunch would be to further tighten the eligibility criteria for rental flats.

Mdm Cynthia Phua (PAP-Aljunied) expressed dismay at this proposal, emphasising that in times of economic downturn, the Government “should have more love” instead of tightening the rental housing criteria for old folks. Mr Mah responded, saying that the purchase of a $90,000 two-room flat is “easily affordable” to someone earning $1,200. Continue reading “Parliament debates HDB rental flats, upgrading, e-engagement and Gaza crisis”