A couple of years ago I was appalled to find out about JTC’s Scheme for Housing of Foreign Talent (SHiFT), where rental housing was offered to foreigners at rates significantly below market prices. Turns out that this originated a long time ago, in 1997, and locals were not happy about it then:
The Straits Times (Singapore)
Scheme unfair to S’poreans, say many, but some disagree
September 9, 1997
JTC’s public housing scheme for foreigners
THE move by the Jurong Town Corporation (JTC) to rent Housing Board flats at below market rates to foreigners has drawn the ire of most Singaporeans interviewed, who say this is giving outsiders an unfair advantage.
But several backed the move, noting that Singaporeans enjoyed the chance to own HDB flats, rather than just rent them.
This right was far more lucrative than the concession being offered to foreigners, they said.
They were responding to the move by JTC, Singapore’s largest industrial landlord, to launch an attractive public rental housing scheme for foreigners, with monthly rentals of up to 40 per cent lower than market rates.
Fourteen out of 20 Singaporeans polled by The Straits Times did not support the scheme, saying the move sent a signal that foreigners were valued more, especially since citizens could not rent or buy HDB flats legally if they were below 35 years old.
They called for fair play, stressing that Singaporeans paid taxes. The Government should thus not be seen as taking care of foreigners better by subsidising their homes.
Four interviewees, all below 30, expressed the most bitter disappointment, saying that they would have wanted to rent or buy their own homes if that was legal.
Said marketing executive W.J. Jian, 29: “Working adults like me cannot afford to buy property because we are not married and not 35 years old. Now, they are saying that if you are a foreigner, you can come in and get cheap rental housing.”
Others offered economic reasons, saying that the scheme would upset the rental market’s equilibrium.
“Some foreigners are renting a room from home-owners, who use the rental income to make ends meet. So is JTC competing with the local rental market?” noted Mr Lincoln Ng, 43, manager of a wholesale company.
JTC’s Scheme for Housing of Foreign Talents, or Shift, will begin with a stock of 1,400 HDB flats, which will be rented out with tenancy terms of up to three years.
Average monthly rentals for unfurnished flats range from $ 700 for three-room flats to $ 1,500 for executive flats.
These exclude service and conservancy charges of between $ 30 and $ 69 a month.
Of the six who backed the scheme, all noted that while Singaporeans could own their flats, foreigners had no such asset here.
Said secretary Sheila Kwa, 31: “Singaporeans are sitting on a pile of gold with their HDB flats, and they are complaining that foreigners are better taken care of?”
Added clerk Teresa Chua, 42, in Mandarin: “Rent is money that goes out and never comes back. During the property boom, Singaporeans struck gold from selling and buying their flats.”
Several said the emotional response was because this issue concerned money.
Angry Singaporeans simply saw this as a case of “us paying more and them paying less”.
They argued that for Singapore to attract foreign talent, housing had to be made affordable or coming here would be unattractive.
As full-time tutor Patrick Wong, 32, noted: “Certain things in Singapore are definitely not in the foreigners’ favour, chiefly housing and cars. So we have got to make these attractive for them to come.”
14 years on, I wonder if Sheila Kwa is still happy with her ‘pile of gold’.