What now for DBSS projects?

In the latest development of the Design, Build and Sell Scheme (DBSS) saga, National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan has announced that he has put a halt to the sale of land for these projects till the Government has finished carrying out its review. For the benefit of those who haven’t been following the news, the furore erupted when news broke out that a five-room flat at Centrale 8, a Tampines residential project by developer Sim Lian Group, would cost S$880,000, making it the most expensive DBSS unit to date. Even though the developer eventually revised the price to $778,000, it wasn’t enough to quell the ire of the public, who accused it of profiteering from the scheme.

( The Government has halted the sale of land to DBSS projects.)

So does this later move mean that DBSS flats will no longer be built? No. Developers who bought their sites last year will still be able to launch their projects. Likewise, the Housing Board will proceed with the sale of a site in Sengkang though it has halted the sale of a site in Bendemeer.

Reactions to the minister’s decision to halt DBSS land sales have been largely agreeable, with some such as Colin Tan, Chesterton Suntec International’s research and consultancy director, suggesting in an interview to The Straits Times that such flats should be built in newer towns instead of mature housing estates or prime locations so as to keep prices from skyrocketing.

The uproar over Centrale 8 comes at a time when Singaporeans have become increasingly vocal in expressing their discontent over rising property prices. So exactly how much is too much when it comes to the price of an HDB flat? Obviously, the fact that it had condominium-style furnishings wasn’t enough to convince Singaporeans that the units deserved their hefty price tag. Neither, for that matter, was the minister’s claim that “DBSS is not HDB”. Clearly for the majority, it would seem that a flat by any other name, no matter how fancy, is still a flat.

Allegations about profiteering aside, is the uproar over Centrale 8 due in part to the entrenched perception that HDB flats are meant, in the words of one Yahoo! Fit to Post reader, “for those who cannot afford private properties [sic] or high rentals”? HDB flats have for a long time been viewed as cheap housing for the masses and while it is important to keep property prices affordable for lower-income families, does this mean that everyone should have to limit their options to the same utilitarian designs and aesthetics?

While the government mulls over the fate of the DBSS scheme, developers are going ahead with their existing projects. The later part of the year will see the launch of Bedok’s 488-unit Belvia as well as an as-yet-unnamed development project in Clementi whose units are expected to fetch prices of over $800,000.