I bet there are people who are currently using DBSS as a swear word, with phrases like “You’re such a DBSS”, “Kiss my DBSS” and “What a DBSShole”. On the other hand, I bet there are others who are treating DBSS like Lord Voldemort, the Star Wars prequel trilogy or Terminator 3 – “That Which Shall Not Be Discussed”.
But in all seriousness, though, it seems like the news these days are filled with problems with flats built under the DBSS or Design, Build and Sell Scheme. Without a doubt, it’s perfectly fair to blame the developers for the undeniably deplorable designs and workmanship.
However, it can’t be too late now for the thousands of affected homebuyers who now have to literally live with the results. They need help, and the only people that should be helping them now is HDB. Here are 3 reasons why.
1. HDB started the DBSS in the first place
Lest anyone forget, the whole point of introducing the Design, Build and Sell Scheme in 2005 was meant to create flats that were intended to be the best of both worlds. Not only were they supposed to be relatively affordable housing that boasted condo-level furnishings, but by co-opting the private sector to build flats, HDB hoped to move away from its role as “builder” to concentrate on its role as “regulator”.
Except, over the past 5 years, it would seem like very little regulation has been done. By giving the private developers greater autonomy in deciding on flat design, size, type and configuration, HDB essentially told them they could maximise their profits by maximising the efficient use of space.
How else do you explain corridors with a width of 1.2 metres that don’t allow two people to walk comfortably side-by-side and are prone to flooding or door grilles that are literally an inch apart from your neighbour’s when both are open? The worst part is? These design flaws aren’t considered “defects”. They’re there to stay. The only recourse is for HDB to take some responsibility for giving private developers so much autonomy, and compensate homeowners for paying more for such a poorly designed home.
Speaking of defects…
2. HDB has to realise that a “one-year defects warranty” is not enough time
If you think private developers took the savings they got from building narrow corridors that resemble prisons and used it to pay for the better fittings and furnishings, please excuse me while I laugh maniacally in the corner of my Arkham cell. If your corridors can look like they belong in an asylum, you definitely can’t expect your apartment to look any better.
The number of complaints of shoddy workmanship regarding the DBSS flat interior is enough to make you believe there’s a real conspiracy. You see, the law says that developers are responsible for any defects reported in a year. This applies to all kind of properties, not just DBSS projects. Now, here’s the first catch: determining exactly when those 12 months start can be tricky. But when it comes to DBSS projects, the bigger issue is that there are numerous reports of defects, so many that the developer can’t (or won’t) deal with them quickly enough.
Take Centrale 8 in Tampines, for example. The one year is almost up and the developer isn’t planning to extend the deadline or provide any financial compensation for homeowners who want to employ their own contractors to handle the defects. In fact, the residents are so desperate for help that they’ve roped in Education Minister Heng Swee Keat, who also happens to be their Member of Parliament to lead a taskforce to handle their concerns. A taskforce! When even a Cabinet Minister has to get involved, you have to wonder why HDB is still choosing not to take a pro-active role. After all, the least they can do is mandate that the defects warranty needs to be extended.
And Centrale 8 turned out not to be the only culprit, either! Other projects with numerous workmanship complaints include Pasir Ris One, Trivelis, The Peak and the list goes on. Well, it can’t go on too long. There are only 13 DBSS projects altogether after all.
3. HDB needs to admit that they are ultimately responsible to homeowners
The silence on the part of HDB is surprising considering that they’ve clearly already proven to have the final say on DBSS projects. For one thing, they suspended land sales in 2011, after the Centrale 8 developers tried to charge as much as $880,000 or about $757 per square foot, almost as much a condominium in the same District.
So suspending the DBSS is undoubtedly the right decision, because it recognised the flaws of the Scheme. By doing so, HDB has essentially prevented more private developers from making a hefty profit from the subsidised land sales, and preventing more homeowners from being affected as a result. But is it fair for HDB to say, in the same breath, that they are unable to help the people who are already caught by this flawed Scheme? I should think not.
After all, these homeowners have had to jump through hoops that HDB set forth. They needed to meet restrictive eligibility requirements, such as the income ceiling, or meeting HDB’s limited definition of what a “proper family nucleus” is. If they need financing, they can take a home loan from HDB. What’s worse, if they cancel the booking for their DBSS unit, they will not be allowed to apply for another flat for at least a year. For all intents and purposes, they might as well have been applying for a HDB flat!
In the same way, when it comes to private developers of DBSS projects, the homeowners don’t have any say over which developer wins the tender, which parcel of land they buy, or how much it’s sold for. HDB does.
When children make a nuisance of themselves in public places, we’re quick to look around for their parents and hold them responsible for their children’s behaviour. The problems with the DBSS projects go way beyond childish nonsense. Shouldn’t we be holding HDB responsible for their poor behaviour?
What do you think HDB should do for affected DBSS homeowners? Share your thoughts with us.
Pasir Ris One
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