With several Design, Build and Sell Scheme (DBSS) projects coming under fire recently for defects, some Members of Parliament (MPs) have renewed calls for the scheme to scrapped or tweaked, citing the blurred lines of accountability and low public confidence in the quality of these projects.
In a Facebook post last week, Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC MP Hri Kumar Nair said he hoped for the Housing and Development Board (HDB) scheme to be “shelved permanently”. It was suspended in 2011, after a public outcry over the high prices of the Centrale 8 development in Tampines.
Acknowledging the intention behind the premium housing programme, which was meant to bridge the gap between private and public housing, Mr Hri Kumar told TODAY that confusion may have arisen over the housing board’s obligations. “Because this is public housing, the expectation is that not only will HDB oversee the development, they’re supposed to work with the developer to resolve all defects. And because there is such an expectation, there is also disappointment when that did not happen.”
For example, in 2013, residents of DBSS project The Peak@Toa Payoh, had approached him over the mysterious appearance of black spots on their wooden flooring. The developer initially maintained the fault lay with the residents, but offered replacements for free when preliminary tests suggested otherwise. “Residents expressed the hope that the HDB would play a more active role in helping to solve the issue,” said Mr Hri Kumar. Had the developer refused to acknowledge the defect, residents would have had to start legal proceedings, which would not have been cost-effective for most.
Mr Hri Kumar’s comments came after MPs voiced concerns in Parliament over the HDB’s role in resolving disputes over defects in DBSS projects. Some also questioned the future of the scheme, prompting Minister of State for National Development Desmond Lee to say there was no need to rush into a decision when market conditions could change. “There may well be reasons to bring back the DBSS in some form,” he said.
Mr Liang Eng Hwa, MP for Holland-Bukit Timah GRC, seconded the call to can the DBSS for good. The scheme was well-intended, but problems arise when the final product does not meet residents’ expectations, said Mr Liang, who is also deputy chair of the Government Parliamentary Committee (GPC) for National Development and Environment.
The cooling of the private property market has also made such homes more attainable to Singaporeans. “With prices coming down, there may not be a need for a separate category (of housing),” said Mr Liang.
At the same time, newer Build-to-Order (BTO) projects are catching up in quality. Referring to Punggol Northshore, a BTO project featuring smart homes, Mr Gan Thiam Poh, MP for Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC, added: “If you look at today’s public housing projects, the design is already quite impressive. It’s time to streamline.”
If the Government does not want to abolish the scheme, adjustments should be made, said parliamentarians. MP for Nee Soon GRC Lee Bee Wah, who is also chairman of the GPC for National Development and Environment, said the gaps such as the supervision of the workmanship quality, the finishing and the design, can be plugged to ensure that expectations are met.
Another solution, proposed Mr Hri Kumar, is to have private developers design and build, while the HDB sells the flats. “So the resident only deals with the HDB, instead of the private developer. At least it’s clearer to everyone where the responsibility lies,” he said.