“BTO Roulette: Calling It Quits After 13 Failed Applications” reads the title of a RICE media article published last year.
“We tried balloting 13 times for an HDB flat” reads another title, this time on Seedly Comics.
It seems like, after the 13th time, unlucky Singaporeans couples are simply fed up with the HDB Build-to-Order (BTO) balloting system, even after trying to increase their chances with less popular projects.
During Budget 2023, the government announced an additional ballot chance for families with children and young married couples aged 40 years old and below.
Why are we even balloting for our housing needs? Shouldn’t public housing be affordable and readily available to Singaporeans so that we can grow our population?
After all, as mentioned in Budget 2023, Singapore’s second-best safeguard besides our financial reserves is our people.
Thus, I set out to find out why the HDB BTO balloting system is even a thing and whether it is still relevant today.
The Birth of the HDB BTO
The HDB BTO scheme was a replacement for the old Registration for Flats System (RFS) scheme, where flats were built ahead of demand.
The reason for its introduction is likely due to a number of reasons.
Firstly, there was a huge lack of demand during the Asian Financial Crisis in 1997, which led to 31,000 unsold HDB units that took more than five years to sell.
Secondly, the RFS scheme did not allow buyers to know the exact location and costs until they were invited to select their flats. Moreover, you would not be able to predict your flat’s completion date and some buyers also did not have the means to pay a downpayment when flats were completed earlier than expected.
Under the BTO scheme, these issues were addressed and HDB flats will only be built if the demand for the number of apartments in a specific contract exceeds 70%.
This lets HDB build flats according to the demand at that time.
Fairness in an Unfair World
On top of addressing the issues back then, the HDB BTO system requires applicants to ballot for a unit.
On the surface, this seems like a very fair system. If you want a house in land-scarce Singapore, get in line with everyone else and wish that the odds are in your favor.
But of course, we know that nothing in life is truly fair.
After feedback from Singaporeans, the government introduced various schemes such as the Parenthood Priority Scheme (PPS) for couples with children to help those in need of housing stand a better chance.
You would have more ballot chances to get an HDB BTO if you qualify under the various schemes as described in our other article:
But how effective are these schemes in making sure that those in urgent need of housing get a unit?
And what about those who don’t fall into any of these priority schemes but actually want to have children after getting a house?
Well, according to HDB, almost 90 per cent of FT families who apply for BTO flats in non-mature estates have a chance to book a flat within two tries and virtually all have a chance to book a flat within their first three tries.
Yet, there are couples as mentioned above who have tried 13 times but failed to get a unit.
Some may argue that these people are the ones going for all the popular projects, but as I heard from some, this is not always the case.
Luck Of The Draw
In recent years, it’s clear that demand has severely outstripped supply for public housing, with insane oversubscription rates for 4-room flats.
And that’s not even counting singles who want their own home. But I shan’t open another can of worms here.
As a result of the lack of supply and increase in demand over the years, this culminated in a big problem for the balloting system.
Lesser chances of getting a queue number and a higher chance of not getting a flat at all.
Is The BTO Balloting System Still Relevant?
With things as it is, the BTO balloting system, coupled with the repercussions of tight supply, has inevitably delayed plans for starting a family for many young couples.
According to Leong Mun Wai of the Progress Singapore Party,
The problem has worsened since then (2021) and currently close to 100,000 young couples are waiting for their BTO flats, some more than 5 years already.
The government has since promised shorter waiting time BTOs of two to three years and more flats to be built in the coming years.
However, these things take one very important thing away from us:
And while you can choose to go for Open Booking Flats, these are on a first-come-first-serve basis (which are quickly snapped up) and not readily available.
From a layman’s point of view, it seems like Singapore is playing catch up when it comes to providing housing quickly and affordably for us.
While the balloting system is considered to be fair, more needs to be done for those in urgent need of housing rather than just additional ballot chances.
On Reddit, some Singaporeans have also suggested a better pity system where those who have been unsuccessful a few times get a guaranteed queue number for selection.
There are also suggestions that those who really need a home could be allocated flats first before the remaining flats are balloted.
While balloting is considered fair, the current iteration of the balloting system seems to be less relevant than before.
Moreover, improvements need to this system have to be made with urgency as each failed attempt means more time being wasted for couples wanting to start a family.
What are your thoughts? Share it with us in the comments below!