SINGAPORE — For Ms Shuhadah, upgrading from a Housing and Development Board (HDB) flat to owning a private property is a goal she would like to achieve at some point in her life — not for herself, but for her future children, as she is concerned about the continuously climbing cost of homes here.
“A roof over our heads is a basic necessity. If I can save up for a freehold property and pass it down to my future child, then I don’t have to worry so much about them not having a home in the future,” said the finance technology professional in her 30s, who declined to give her full name.
“Even if my future child does not want the house, at least it would be an asset that can be sold off and he or she can use the money for other necessities.”
In both her aspiration for private homeownership and worry for her future children’s housing situation, Ms Shuhadah, who is married and plans to have a child someday, is far from alone.
The TODAY Youth Survey 2023, which was conducted in August, polled 1,000 respondents aged between 18 and 35.
Among those surveyed, 78 per cent said owning a private home is one of their life goals. In reality, over 80 per cent of Singaporeans today live in public housing.
At the same time, 70 per cent said they are worried that their children will have difficulty affording a home in Singapore in future.
Housing affordability has been a perennial issue among Singaporeans, including youths and young adults.
With aspiring homeowners having to contend with rising resale flat prices and backlogs in BTO project completions, the topic was discussed in Parliament several times and was raised during the first Forward Singapore public engagement session September last year.
The TODAY Youth Survey is an annual survey that seeks to give a voice to Singapore’s millennials and Gen Zers on societal issues and everyday topics close to their hearts.
This is the third edition of the survey and it looked at youths’ views on housing, the importance of a university degree, career development, the gap between blue collar and white collar wages, and civic participation.
Sociologists told TODAY that the desirability of private housing among youths is not surprising because, among other things, it is seen as a signal of upward social mobility — a common aspiration among Singaporeans in general.
They also said it makes sense that youths are uncertain about whether future generations can afford property, as they are likely comparing housing prices now against their parents’ time, and extrapolating a worsening situation moving forward.
HOW YOUTHS FEEL ABOUT HOUSING
When asked if it is important for them to own a property, either public or private, within their lifetime, a resounding 83 per cent said they agree or strongly agree.
And when asked if it is one of their life goals to own a private home, 78 per cent said yes — 35 per cent said they strongly agree and another 43 per cent agree.
This aspiration to own a private home is especially high among youths aged 18 to 24, among whom 84 per cent agree or strongly agree with the statement, and among those from households with a monthly income of S$15,000 or more, with nine in 10 of such respondents agreeing or strongly agreeing.
They survey also found:
76 per cent of respondents believe the minimum age for singles to buy an HDB flat should be lowered from the current floor of 3575 per cent feel that society should prioritise public housing for families70 per cent worry that their children will have difficulty affording a home in Singapore59 per cent expect to be better off than their parents in terms of housing
Meanwhile, more youths are now worried about housing and renovation costs.
As many as 60 per cent said they worry about this, an almost 20 percentage point increase from last year’s survey.
Housing and renovation costs are the biggest worry among youths when it comes to cost of living, among a list of five items including groceries, healthcare, utilities and eating out.
In last year’s survey, groceries was the top concern for them when thinking about the cost of living.
WHAT TO DO ABOUT UNMET PRIVATE HOUSING ASPIRATIONS?
Mr Wayne Ten, who recently became a father, said owning a private home is a very important goal for him, because he wants to pass it down to the next generation.
“It is a very good wealth distribution tool for our kids. With the rising prices of property, our kids will potentially get a decent bequest sum,” said the 28-year-old financial advisor.
But others have a different take. Undergraduate Sherlyn Tan, 23, said the idea of having a freehold property to pass down to future generations is “nice” but hard to achieve.
“I grew up in HDB flats and I don’t see an issue with just living in an HDB flat for the long run.”
Meanwhile, 35-year-old Cyrus, who declined to give his full name, said he noticed that property values are not appreciating as fast as they used to, so he would prefer leaving behind a portfolio of financial investments for his future children.
He added that he used to aspire to own a condominium, but their shrinking sizes over the years have made such homes inconducive for families.
“I’ve been to prison cell tours in Singapore and it seems like the cells there are bigger than some (condominium) rooms,” said Mr Cyrus, who is married and plans to have children in the future.
Dr Leong Chan-Hoong, the head of policy development, evaluation and data analytics at global policy advisory firm Kantar Public, said this generation of youth, having benefited from growing up in a period of global prosperity, would naturally want the best for themselves, and this includes private homes.
But with only two in 10 Singaporeans actually residing in private homes today, it is likely that many youthful dreams will end up thwarted.
Sociologist Tan Ern Ser from the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore (NUS) warned that this could lead to “social tension, a feeling of being unfairly treated, and/or a politics of envy”.
But he added that Singaporeans are adaptable people who are likely to reorder their priorities and not measure life quality “in purely materialistic terms”.
Dr Alwyn Lim from the Singapore Management University (SMU) agreed.
“Although many have aspirations to own private property, the financial reality of the increasing cost of private property (also driven by increased demand) will temper those expectations as younger Singaporeans grow older.”
WHY YOUTHS WORRY FOR THEIR CHILDREN’S HOUSING
Even as they have high ideals for themselves, today’s youths are already worried about their future children’s ability to put a roof over their heads.
Ms Nandini earlier this year picked her four-room Build-to-Order flat. While it is a joyous milestone, it is also a moment tinged with worry that perhaps her future children may not be able to enjoy the same privilege in future.
“Right now, buying a house is already expensive to me. And many whom I spoke to also find them not only increasingly expensive but the sizes are getting way smaller,” said the 28-year-old, who is not yet married.
She and her partner plan to save up a small amount of money consistently for a fund to help their children in future, which can be put to use for housing or other important purchases.