ST says SG home buyers disappointed over BTO delays due to entry restrictions on migrant workers

The Straits Times (ST) published an article today (23 May) highlighting how Singaporeans are getting disappointed and frustrated over delays in building their HDB build-to-order (BTO) flat.

ST told the story of an administrative assistant, Karen Lim, 49, who has waited for “5 long years” before she is “finally in sight of getting the keys to her BTO flat in Punggol”.

“She had hoped to move in early this year but construction hold-ups due to the pandemic delayed the schedule by six more frustrating months to this August,” ST wrote.

“The delay makes me sad, especially when I see neighbors from nearby projects sharing photos of them collecting their keys,” ST quoted Ms Lim.

She is crossing her fingers that there will be no further delays even as HDB said the completion dates of some projects may be pushed back even further due to tighter border measures restricting the entry of migrant workers especially from South Asia.

ST also reported that another family, Nisa Noorkhalam and her husband, will now have to wait until at least the third quarter of next year to move into their 4-room BTO flat in Yishun. Ms Nisa said, “The waiting time seems to be getting longer and longer. If we could let go of the BTO flat without penalty and get an HDB resale flat, we will definitely consider doing that.”

The couple now have to squeeze into the 5-room HDB flat of Ms Nisa’s parents in Woodlands till they can get their keys, ST said.

Yet another couple, Jerry Loo and wife were said to be “looking forward to embracing married life in a new home after their January wedding but will now have to wait six more months”, reported ST. Their 4-room Bidadari BTO flat will only be ready around the third quarter of next year, forcing the couple to stay separately with their families, added ST.

“The small excitements of getting our own flat, renovating it and enjoying the newlywed life and planning for kids are now pushed back, so that’s the disappointing part,” ST quoted Mr Loo.

HDB has reported that about 85 per cent of the 89 ongoing BTO projects were behind schedule as of last month.

Minister Lawrence Wong: We need migrant workers to build your homes

Indeed, earlier this month (4 May), Minister Lawrence Wong told Singaporeans at a press briefing that Singapore can’t afford to shut its borders as the country needs migrant workers to build homes. He was also trying to explain why Singapore did not close its border to India earlier, given the record new outbreaks happening there (‘Lawrence Wong says SG didn’t close border with India due to need for migrant workers, but traveller stats shows otherwise‘).

“We are small… We need migrant workers to build our homes,” he said. “We’ve already become very tight, to the point that the backlog of applications has been growing… Many projects have been suffering from delays, as all of us know.”

“Some of our housing projects may now be delayed by up to a year or more. So it does come at a considerable cost to Singaporeans,” he added.

The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) later added that Singapore would have been hit hard if migrant workers had not been allowed to enter Singapore after the circuit breaker period last June (‘MOM says border not closed earlier due to need of migrant workers; No mention of others such as STVP and work passes‘, 18 May).

It said that there would have been a labour shortage of 70,000 service sector workers, 30,000 construction workers and 30,000 domestic workers if Singapore had closed its borders last year.

MOM pointed out that the outflow of migrant workers has exceeded the inflow over the past year due to border restrictions to mitigate importation risks. Singapore has not been able to adequately replace those who have left, it said.

But a cursory check by TOC has shown that those who flew directly from South Asia did not compose entirely of migrant workers (a.k.a. work permit holders) only.

Many more were students, work pass holders, dependant’s pass holders, short-term visit pass holders, and Singapore residents (‘South Asian family suspected to have transmitted B1617 variant to airport worker, unlikely to be migrant workers‘, 22 May).

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