Thursday, 1 March 2007

Written Answers To Questions For Oral Answer Not Answered By 3.00 PM: 27 February 2007

The Speaker is very strict about time-keeping for Question Time, especially during the Budget debates when time really is at a premium. While normal sittings will get 1.5 hours of Question Time, that has been reduced to 30 minutes during the Budget debates.

It seems that on average, each question would take 5-7 minutes to clear. That includes dealing with supplemental questions. This particular question of mine was fixed as #6 on the list, and when it came up we only had 2 minutes left for the Minister (in this case, the Parliamentary Secretary on behalf of the Minister) to reply.

So actually, the PS did answer, but he was cut off in mid-reply by the Speaker after 2 minutes. It therefore ended up being converted into a written answer, and I lost the chance to ask supplemental questions.

I filed this question in response to a reply by the PS in an earlier sitting, when he was talking about a Berita Harian article in November about a man living in his truck and explaining why HDB did not grant the family's application for a rental flat.

The PS described the man as "financially irresponsible", because he had actually sold the HDB flat and had apparently received substantial proceeds from the sale. I thought the PS' response was a little unsympathetic, if not callous. (I didn't ask any supplemental questions then because it took place during the first or second sitting after my swearing-in and I was still not sure of myself.)

That being the case, I wanted to find out more about how HDB dealt with this sort of applications from people who had lost their flats, hence the question.

(Loss of flats due to failure in making mortgage or rental payments)

Mr Siew Kum Hong: To ask the Minister for National Development (a) how many HDB flat owners lost their flats due to failure in making mortgage or rental payments, in each year from 2002 to 2006; (b) of this number, how many applied to HDB to obtain alternative accommodation in each year and how many were rejected for each year; (c) what were the most common reasons for rejection; and (d) whether the fact that an applicant’s household includes dependants is a relevant factor in deciding such applications.

Mr Mah Bow Tan: From 2002 to 2006, 360 HDB households[1] voluntarily surrendered their flats to HDB due to default in HDB mortgage loan payments. There were also 895 cases of mortgagee sale of HDB flats by banks. No tenant under the Public Rental Scheme was evicted due to rental arrears, although some have been advised to transfer to smaller rental flats to reduce their rent.

Of the 360 households who voluntarily surrendered their flats to HDB, 200 (56%) have been allocated rental flats while the rest found their own housing arrangements. Among the 895 households affected by mortgagee sale action, 273 appealed to HDB for some form of help. Of these, 131(48%) were offered a rental flat while another 13(5%) who met credit assessment guidelines were provided a concessionary loan to purchase another flat.

There are strict eligibility criteria for the Public Rental Scheme to ensure that our heavily subsidised rental flats are allocated to those without housing options. For example, households who sold their flats are not eligible for subsidised rental flats for 30 months from the date of flat sale. If they have enjoyed 2 housing subsidies, they will be permanently debarred from a rental flat.

However, HDB does exercise flexibility in applying these eligibility rules. The key principle is that citizen households who are truly needy and with no alternative housing option will be considered for a rental flat. Among the factors HDB takes into consideration in its evaluation are the number of children that the household has to support, and the presence of dependants who incur regular medical expenses.

[1] Excludes 210 cases of abandoned flats, and flats whose lessees have migrated or passed away.

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