The inability of singles under 35 to buy HDB flats has been a hot topic for quite some time. But Workers’ Party MP Louis Chua recently fanned the flames when he called for the BTO age limit to be lowered.
In his Parliamentary speech on 13th September, Mr Chua implored HDB to reduce the BTO age eligibility to 28 for singles, citing that “they would have some chance to lead independent lives and steady their financial footing” by that age. Said independence can also be further developed when they have a place to call their own.
Mr Chua elaborates on his proposal that this should only be for BTOs – not resale flats – as those 28-year-old applicants would be around 33 years old when their BTO is complete. And in our opinion, what’s the big difference between owning a home at 33 versus 35?
To see what people thought of a potential change in the age limit for BTOs, we got a few Singaporeans under 35 to share their thoughts.
Already outgrowing living with parents under 1 roof – Joycelyn
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For some, the fatigue of staying with their parents has set in early. 24-year-old Joycelyn is one of these young adults. “My parents still view me as a kid, and I can’t make independent decisions since it’s still a shared household,” she laments. “I’m already outgrowing living with my parents under one roof, how am I going to wait another 10 years?”
Still, she’s not asking for an immediate end to the age limit as Singapore doesn’t have a lot of housing options, partially due to land scarcity. She suggested that a group of young adults could apply for a BTO together instead. “Otherwise, are single Singaporeans only going to learn independence when they’re 35?”
People need the space to grow and discover who they are – Gabriella
Owning a home might still be some time away for the 22-year-old Gabriella. However, she feels that when young adults stop being teenagers, they start craving freedom and the chance to live on their own terms.
“People need the space to grow and discover who they are,” she says, explaining that the “my house, my rules” policy many Singaporean households have doesn’t give much leeway for personal growth. “They’ll often resort to sneaking around or just staying out all night,” she elaborates, adding that this might make people “feel like they’re deprived of a home and it could affect their relationship with their families.”
Gabriella also brings up a good point about abusive households. Victims of abuse, be it physical or mental, would need time to heal away from their abusers, which could be difficult if they’re under 35 and can’t get their own place.
“Not being able to get their own space hinders the growth and healing experience,” Gabriella said. “They need that space to be themselves, rather than just having a tiny room in their parents’ house.”
Singles owning homes gives them rootedness to Singapore – Emily
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The late Mr Lee Kuan Yew once said that “[Singaporean] families own their homes and are rooted to Singapore,” and “owning their homes gives everybody a sense of ownership.” 34-year-old Emily argues that this concept also applies to singles.
“Having their own living space gives them independence, which in turn makes it easier to commit to living and working in Singapore,” Emily says. If not, the attractiveness of moving and working abroad will have a pull on them. “And isn’t Singapore scared of brain drain?”
She also brings up an anecdote from the K-drama Little Women. When the lead character was offered the chance to buy an apartment, she realised that having a comfortable, modern home will help her and her sisters escape poverty as they won’t have to worry about their living situation so that they can make more long-term plans for the future.
“It’s similar to how some Singaporean singles may need to escape a toxic or crowded/uncomfortable family environment,” Emily adds. This echoes Gabriella’s earlier concern for singles who don’t have their own space to grow and heal from past traumas.
LGBTQ individuals & couples have disadvantaged housing rights – Christopher
Since LGBTQ couples can’t get legally married in Singapore, they aren’t allowed to bid for an HDB BTO. They’re only allowed to do so as a single, and even then they have to be above 35 to do so.
“The inequality is unfortunate, and also results in disadvantaged housing rights for many people who choose to be single or are LGBTQ couples,” 30-year-old Christopher shared. “This group of people can only start getting a place to call their own at 35 years old, which truth be told, is way too old in society to start having independence and living life to the fullest.”
“We’re no longer living in an outdated society where we should be living with our parents until they pass or we get married,” Christopher added. “It’s about time mindsets and culture shift towards positive change.”
It puts pressure on people to get married early – Steph & Sheryl
Two people brought up a good point that the BTO application age for singles puts pressure on Singaporeans to get married early. “I believe the government thinks that with people getting married earlier, it will encourage people to give birth sooner,” Steph said. The 33-year-old thinks that this is futile since there are people who end up breaking up after paying the downpayment for their flat.
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Sheryl, a 27-year-old academic, also agrees. “The current housing climate in Singapore is so heavily couched in the idea that marriage is the passport to affordable housing,” she said, adding that some of her peers are making drastic steps in their relationships just to secure an HDB flat and the right to move out of their family home. “But what if you’re someone who doesn’t want to, or doesn’t have the right to marry?”
It’d help young couples get used to living with each other – Kayce
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It’s no secret that divorce rates are on the rise in Singapore – there were 7,891 divorces and annulments in 2021, a 13.4% increase compared to 2020. While each couple has their own reasons behind their separation, we can hazard a guess that a handful comes from an incompatibility that was only discovered after they started living together.
As Sheryl and Steph said, there’s an added pressure for young couples to get married earlier in life just to secure an HDB BTO flat. And if their marriage is built on a foundation of affordable housing and not of love, they might be in for a shock once they start living together. Kayce argues that a lower age limit for BTO applications will ease couples into cohabitation earlier.
“Having their own home will help young couples get used to living with each other,” the 33-year-old said, adding that it’d help them learn how to start adulting earlier in life too. This is especially important for those who have only ever lived under their parent’s roof. She also feels that young couples will appreciate their parents more after leaving the nest.
Everyday Singaporeans become less independent – Diana
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For many Singaporeans, living with your parents can mean that your basic necessities like food, lodging, and household bills are taken care of. “But this comes at an expense where it feeds on a collectivistic society and a culture where the everyday Singaporean is less independent,” the 29-year-old Diana said.
With the concept of filial piety having such a strong grip on the Singaporean psyche, it’s not surprising that many locals will continue to stay with their parents even as they enter their 30s and 40s despite being married. And while this is respectable for all intents and purposes, the day they finally start living separately might be a jarring experience for them.
“I’ve had friends who move in with their partners after getting married and for the first time ever, only learning to navigate the world of adulthood away from their parent’s homes,” Diana added. Her sentiment seconds what Kayce said. Newlywed couples shouldn’t have to deal with the stress of new-found independence and navigating cohabitation when there are more pressing concerns.
Lowering the age limit for singles to buy HDB BTO flat
Plenty of these concerns can be mitigated solely by renting, but that’s only a stopgap solution. While it can be more affordable in the short term with no down payments or renovation costs, a rental unit will never belong to the tenant, and they’ll always be at the mercy of landlords.
As some millennials have shared, having the deed to their own home gives them a sense of ownership. Unfortunately, unless they choose to get married, they’ll have to wait till they’re 35 years old to be able to ballot for a BTO. That’s not even factoring in the many years it’d take for the BTO flat to be complete.
With the discourse on lowering the age limit for HDB BTO applications gaining traction, one could only hope that the powers that be can take into consideration the concerns of a growing young adult population.
Read related articles:
- Cheapest HDB resale flats under $350K
- Best estates for newlyweds to get an HDB resale flat
- Guide to HDB housing grants
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