Million Dollar HDB

Khaw Boon Wan

On Sep 7th 2012, news broke that the cash over valuation (COV) in HDB resale transactions in Singapore is still raising and could reach the $200,000 benchmark soon (link). The same CNA piece went on to talk about the undergoing “1 million dollar transaction of a Queenstown executive maisonette” with a COV of $195,000. The piece concludes by talking about the dramatic upswing of resale HDB price in a very a matter a factly tone. As if the price tag of 1million was no big deal. 

Despite the nonchalance on the part of CNA, alarm bells went off online amongst netizens (link). The next development in this ongoing matter arose with the Straits Times reporting the MND Minister Khaw Boon Wan saying that we should not be traumatized over the rumors of a public housing unit being sold for 1 million. (link to story)” The article then went on to report that the minister “noted that the record resale price is indicative of the fact that public housing can provide very good living conditions.”

Seriously. Really? 

Firstly the statement that was reported by the Straits Times is truly offensive to genuine victims of Post traumatic disorder (PTSD). Intentional or not, the statement is dismissive of the suffering of patients who deal with PTSD in their lives and should have been better constructed. Minister Khaw seems to have confused outrage for trauma. The fact that Minister Khaw was the previous Health Minister who should know better about the weight of his words makes his inappropriate choice of words even more appalling.

Secondly, Singaporeans have a genuine concern at the exorbitant price that the Queenstown maisonette is fetching. It is well known that HDB prices are based on market pricing and this skewed sale price could affect the price curve for future flats, pushing public housing further out of the reach of ordinary citizens. Or it could drive HDB price speculation into a frenzy and send the property bubble to the breaking point. Either outcome is not a good thing and is a legitimate sticking point for all the grumbling online. There is a legitimate reason why property agents are saying that HDB resale flats are the biggest cash cows for realtors. That alone should send alarm bells ringing.

Thirdly, the dismissive attitude on the part of the Minister just shows observers that he still remains out of touch with the feeling on the ground, that HDB housing is becoming more and more out of reach for the average Singapore. Minister Khaw you may have political capital to spend now with the next election being four years away, but continuing to say things that make people think you are out of touch with your electorate is committing political suicide in the long term. Either choose your words more carefully or hire a public relations expert who will craft your message for you. 

All in all the entire issue boils down to two main points:

1. Contrary to government claims that HDB remains affordable for all, the reality of this incident paints a stark picture that gives none of us have any reason to celebrate the fact that a HDB flat has hit the million dollar benchmark. 

2. Despite all the claims that the government does not care about us and is ignoring our complaints, the incident pretty much still shows (at least on Minister Khaw’s part) that they are listening to the people of Singapore. But is the problem is none our words seem to register in their minds if you by the MND minister’s bad choice of words in explaining why we should not worry about the new normal in HDB pricing

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