Was Press Secretary Karolyn Poon misleading Singaporeans in saying “Nine in 10 Singaporeans own their homes”?

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Photo: YouTube screengrab

On June 27, Dr Ng Kok Hoe wrote an open letter to The Straits Times, titled ‘Social workers also tackle structural conditions that lead to poverty’, about the “incomplete picture of the realities of low-income families”. Earlier today, Karolyn Poon Press Secretary to the Minister for Social & Family Development responded to Dr Ng’s letter with one of her own, ‘System not perfect but has uplifted life of majority’.

In his letter, Dr Ng suggested that systems and structures have created the conditions for poverty and imposed barriers for the low-income. Ms Poon opened her letter addressing the issue he brought up and said, “Our system is not perfect. But as we strive to improve it, we must first accurately take stock of where we are”.

She continued saying that existing policies in areas such as education, healthcare, and social-support have helped those with low incomes.

Ms Poon also went on to say, “No child misses out on a quality education because they cannot afford it. Nine in 10 Singaporeans own their homes. Those buying smaller flats receive bigger subsidies”.

However, an article in the Straits Times last year clears up this misconception. The article, ‘HDB was describing a lease ownership’, was published July 21, 2017.
In it, the author, Cheah Wenjie explains, “It is somewhat misleading to term HDB buyers “homeowners” rather than “lease owners”. The two terms mean very different things legally”.

He also clarifies the difference, adding that homeowners own the land outright and never have to return it or pay rent on it. They are restricted only by the prevailing laws of the land. Lease-owners, on the other hand, exclusively possess the flat for a specified time only, after which the flat returns to the state for free.

Cheah Wenjie then says, “Calling HDB buyers homeowners works to perpetuate the misconception that they own the flat outright. This results in serious and damaging misunderstandings”.

While Ms Poon suggested that Singaporeans are able to afford quality education because of the proportion of homeowners, she failed to take into account that her statistics likely reflect both homeowners and lease-owners.

And where lease-owners such as those residing in HDB flats are concerned, there is also the fact that “their flats will simply revert to the State at the end of the lease term for free and that their property value will depreciate leading up to that”.

Government website gov.sg addressed this issue, and answered the following question: Am I a home owner if I buy a 99-year lease HDB flat?

To which, they say, “HDB flat buyers who purchase a typical new 99-year lease flat own the rights to their flats for 99 years.

Likewise, buyers of a 99-year leasehold private property own the rights to their property for the duration of their lease, and would also regard themselves as home owners.”

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obbana@theindependent.sg