06 September 2004

More on flats and singles

I had the feeling, two posts ago, that MiniLee had promised more than what he could give in his National Rally speech. Under the laudable initiative of liberalising Singapore, the new leader made several sweeping pronouncements which, in the course of just a fortnight, were "clarified" and nullified by himself, his ministers, and even the Police Entertainment Licensing Unit (an Orwellian name, if there ever was one).

On further consideration, I realise that the "clarification" by Mah Bow Wow on flats and singles issue was not even coherent. Let's take a look at it again, this time, in depth.

Rally Speech: "We originally allowed singles to buy flats if two of them paired up and were aged above 35 years... this year we have gone further and said you can buy 4-room, 5-room or bigger flats anywhere on the resale market."

Mah Bow Wow's clarification: Singles can grants (i.e. subsidies) to buy any public housing as long as they don't earn more than $3000 a month. The old limit was $8000 a month.

A detailed explanation of my original point: It doesn't take much for middle-class singles over 35 to earn more than $3000 a month. If we take 2004 as the benchmark, the average middle-class single over 35 would've spent an average of 15 years in the labour market. If you're middle-class, PBEM, and white-collar, it's very likely that you'd hit over $3,000 a month? The amount of subsidies left behind is substantial, and does affect the capacity to afford your new home.

And singles of this profile have been the usual buyers of public housing under the old scheme! Of course with the old limit of $8,000 only the ridiculously well-off singles (who should be bonking with each other and passing their filthy rich 'sucessful genes' to produce new generations of Singaporeans!) were excluded from buying public housing.

The government can and will quibble over just how many singles have been left behind with the new limits. In fact, it will quibble over the numbers (if challenged publicly by critics like myself) without feeling the need to produce hard numbers of its own. So the point is moot until we or some economist critic can construct the figures.

But we've missed something big that the government won't have a defense to.

Old scheme: Singles are free to be filthy rich, it doesn't matter what they earn, but they can only buy a small 3-room flat.
New scheme: Singles are free to buy any flat what they want, but they won't receive any subsidies or waivers if they earn more than $3K.

Well, just tell me what flat you can really afford if you earn less than $3,000 a month. And tell me how you can afford a flat if you earn more, but are now ineligible for the subsidies?

Perhaps the only way to mock this incoherent scheme is to take it very literally, very seriously and ask:
"What if I get a raise 2 years after I buy the flat? Will the government kick me out of my flat and make me pay back the 'subsidies'?"
"I plan to get my flat under the singles-over-35 scheme, then marry someone 2 years later. Will I get to keep my singles flat subsidy? Will we be able to apply for a new flat under the married couples subsidy?"
"What if I get myself temporarily underpaid. Will I qualify for the scheme then?"
"I'm the CEO of my company. If I pay myself $5,000 in terms of company shares and only receive a cash salary of $2,500 will I still qualify?" etc.

(It's a parody of the Encyclopedist who, under religious censorship, managed to poke fun at the concept of the location of hell by taking it far too literally and seriously)

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