Thursday, September 18, 2008

SIM Offers Rental Apts For Students' Parents

Source : The Business Times, September 18, 2008

Aim is for foreigners to be closer to their children, so as to help them settle in

WHILE university hostels are typically occupied by students, one tertiary institution here has dedicated units that its students' parents can rent - to experience a dose of campus life with their children.

Mr Lee: Visiting faculty or mature students enrolling in short executive education programmes may use them too

Over at the Singapore Institute of Management's (SIM) new campus in Ulu Pandan, there are four studio apartments that parents of foreign students can stay in, so that they can be close to their children and help them adjust during their first few days in Singapore.

The $150-a-night apartments, which have themes such as Balinese and modern contemporary, are fully furnished with a pantry and balcony area. They are also just a stone's throw away from the six hostel blocks where the students stay.

To date, seven sets of parents have stayed at the apartments since the 4.5-hectare SIM Global Education campus - built on the former army camp for the School of Military Medicine - was opened in July. It is SIM's third campus, after its headquarters in Clementi and another site at Namly Avenue.

According to SIM chief executive Lee Kwok Cheong, there are also plans to allow visiting faculty or mature students enrolling in short executive education programmes to use the studio apartments as well.

'For this old block, we could not turn it into too many student hostels, but we felt it was ideal to turn it into something that parents could use. The feedback has been good so far and it's an alternative to staying in a hotel, which can be more expensive and further away,' Mr Lee told BT in an interview during a tour of the campus.

The air-conditioned student hostels are also a first for SIM, and can house some 428 students. They pay anything from $500 to $900 a month, depending on whether they live alone or with roommates.

Already, 20 per cent of the rooms have been taken up and SIM expects full occupancy by year's end.

One early bird who has moved in, 21-year-old management student Anthony Simon from Indonesia, said: 'I used to rent a place in Lakeside, which took me nearly 45 minutes to get to school. Now, I can get to class in just 10 minutes by bus, and I'm paying less in rent as well.'

The campus, which will be officially launched by Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam this morning, is primarily a residential and recreational one. Facilities include a gymnasium, dance studio, tennis courts, a jogging track and a mini-mart.

All lectures and tutorials will still be conducted at the SIM headquarters, located just four bus stops away.

Mr Lee said that SIM management started scouring for suitable sites last year and eventually decided on the Ulu Pandan one earlier this year. It outsourced the development and operational work to property management firm EM Services, which leases the site from the government.

Mr Lee added that more campus development plans would be unveiled in the next few years as SIM moves ahead to double its existing cohort of 10,000 full-time students by 2013. Currently, about a quarter of this cohort is from overseas.

SIM will continue to actively recruit students from countries in Asia such as China, India and Indonesia, where there is 'much interest in Singapore education', said Mr Lee.

He did admit that there was no plan to open an overseas campus for the time being, with all energies focused on building the brand locally and attracting as many foreign students to the Republic as possible.

'We know that if we go overseas and, for whatever reason, it does not work out, it has a big impact on reputation. That's why I'm a bit cautious about talking about going overseas.

'We have to be sure that it will be successful and that if we do so, we can provide the same quality and also enhance our brand.'

More Foreign Worker Dorms In Pipeline

Source : The Business Times, September 18, 2008

WITH more foreign workers expected in Singapore, the government is looking for more places to house them. It has released 11 sites for purpose-built dormitories since February last year and is studying others for temporary quarters.

National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan yesterday underscored the importance of foreign workers to economic growth, be it in construction, manufacturing or service industries.

Construction demand, for instance, came to $16-17 billion in 2006 and is expected to reach $27-30 billion this year, he said.

'We've deferred some programmes . . . (but) we still need the housing programmes, we still want to build our schools and hospitals, and our MRT projects must go ahead,' Mr Mah said.

For the economy to keep growing, restricting the number of foreign workers is not an option right now, he said. Nor is it possible to segregate foreign workers from residents because of space constraints.

'We will have to strike this balance between economic needs and social issues that come with a large number of foreign workers,' Mr Mah said.

The government, employers and the community will have to find ways to facilitate co-existence.

The 11 sites for purpose-built dormitories have 30-year leases and may be ready by 2010 or 2011 to provide up to 65,000 new beds.

While these sites are being developed, temporary dormitories will be needed to ease a short-term accommodation crunch. These dormitories can be built on vacant state land or converted from vacant state property and may carry leases of three to five years.

Fewer than 10 temporary sites are under consideration, one of which is Serangoon Gardens Technical School. The government is assessing the sites and will consult Members of Parliament and grassroots leaders if they appear suitable. So far, no decision has been made on any site.

There were about 757,000 foreign workers in Singapore in December last year. Excluding 180,000 foreign domestic maids who stay with their employers, the remaining 577,000 non-domestic foreign workers have to be accommodated.

And more non-domestic foreign workers could arrive in the next few years. The 577,000 last December was 21 per cent more than the 475,000 in December 2006 and 37 per cent more than the 420,000 in December 2005.

Singapore now has 25 purpose-built dormitories providing 95,000 bed spaces.

OUE Exploring Setting Up Of Listed Property Trust

Source : The Business Times, September 18, 2008

Plan to inject certain hospitality assets; it has appointed professional advisers

OVERSEAS Union Enterprise (OUE) said yesterday that it is looking at setting up a listed property trust into which it will inject 'certain hospitality properties'.

Local asset: Artist's impression of the shopping gallery of Meritus Mandarin, one of OUE properties in Singapore

Professional advisers have been appointed to assist, OUE said in a filing to the Singapore Exchange.

In Singapore, OUE has Meritus Mandarin Singapore and Marina Mandarin Singapore. It also has a beach resort and spa in Malaysia and three hospitality assets in China.

There is no certainty that a listed property trust will be established or that any transaction relating to or involving the company or its subsidiaries will be entered into as a result, OUE said.

'Shareholders should bear the foregoing in mind when dealing in the shares of the company,' it said.

OUE, controlled jointly by Malaysian tycoon T Ananda Krishnan and Indonesia's Lippo Group, said that if it does enter into any definitive transaction relating to a listed property trust, it will make a prompt announcement.

OUE has chosen a 'strange time' to look at listing a real estate investment trust (Reit), a property analyst said yesterday, saying the current market turmoil means new listings are bound to be poorly received.

But if OUE 'takes its time to make up its mind', market conditions might have improved by the time the trust makes it to the market, the analyst added.

Singapore-listed Reits, or S-Reits, are beginning to look attractive compared with developer stocks, some analysts have said lately.

DBS Vickers Research said this month that the share prices of S-Reits have fallen since the start of the Q2 2008 reporting season in July, in tandem with the decline in broader Singapore market.

But the Reit index has done better than developers, the research unit said in a report.

Similarly, in a Sept 16 report DMG & Partners property analyst Brandon Lee said he prefers S-Reits to developers.

He cited the 'constant ammunition of negative newsflow currently being fired at developers' as one reason for this.

'In the near term, we are still recommending the S-Reits, for their earnings visibility and income predictability, as well as higher yields with the recent correction in share prices,' he said.

Australia Seen Luring Global Property Funds

Source : The Business Times, September 18, 2008

Middle East, German investors seeking out deals in commercial property market

(SYDNEY) With US$12 billion of commercial buildings up for grabs and its currency weakening, Australia is becoming a prime target for global funds keen to snap up bargains offloaded by troubled property trusts.

Attractive opportunities: A weakening Australian currency and expected further cuts in interest rates are enticing many overseas investors

The Australian commercial property market, long dominated by local players, has held its value because of low vacancy rates. But highly leveraged real estate investment trusts are in trouble because the global credit crunch has raised borrowing costs.

Cashed-up Middle East investors and German funds with low-risk, low-return expectations are sniffing out deals, says Robert White, president of New York-based research firm Real Capital Analytics.

'A lot of investors want to invest in Asia Pacific for allocation reasons but they're scared of China, and there are limited opportunities in other markets,' he said. 'So Australia has emerged as a very attractive market for Germans, for Middle East investors.'

Australian developer Ashington said earlier this month that it was seeking foreign investors to stump up a A$200 million (S$228 million) fund to buy buildings during what it believes will be a short window in 2009 for bargain hunting.

And Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, the world's largest sovereign wealth fund, wants to expand its property portfolio in Australia, according to UAE newspaper reports. About A$15 billion worth of assets are up for sale in Australia, according to consultants DTZ. And Australian property firms, which have traditionally relied on superannuation pension funds, are also looking to partner foreign funds to broaden their capital base.

The global credit crunch has hit Australian property firms hard, especially Reits, which are now looking to raise funds to cut their borrowing levels after debt spreads more than doubled in the last six months to about 110 basis points.

The refinancing problems of shopping mall operator Centro Properties Group and Allco Finance Group Ltd have hogged the headlines, but the whole stockmarket sector has been dragged down about 40 per cent since October.

Macquarie Office Trust said during the full year to June that it made asset sales totalling A$340 million while GPT Group plans to sell holiday resorts.

A fall in the currency and expected further cuts in interest rates are enticing many investors, said Jane Murray, Asia-Pacific head of research for Jones Lang LaSalle The Australian dollar has fallen about 18 per cent against the US dollar since a peak in July on expectations that global economic turmoil will drag down commodity prices and prompt interest rate cuts.

'It may not be a long-term phenomenon because obviously the Australian market will recover,' Ms Murray said. 'But over the next year or even two years, we will see many more purchases done by international players.'

In 2007, overseas investors spent about A$15 billion on Australian commercial property - half of total transactions - with a slew of highly leveraged deals before the credit crunch hit.

So far this year the going has been slow, according to DTZ, with foreign investors spending A$1.5 billion, or about 21 per cent of the total recorded up to the end of August. Market fundamentals still look solid as a mining boom has brought office vacancy rates down to an average 4.2 per cent across the country. Office yields are also high at 7 per cent in the first half of 2008, compared with 6.7 per cent in the United States, 5.2 per cent in Singapore and 4.7 per cent in Japan.

But some funds see better value elsewhere. Henry Chin, a strategist at Deutsche Bank's property investment arm RREEF, said a clampdown on bank lending was hampering growth in Australian property.

He prefers China and South Korea, where office vacancy rates are below 2 per cent and new supply is tight.

But although global funds are drawn to high growth markets such as China and India, many conclude that Australia offers the best returns compared to risk, according to Alistair Meadows, a director at DTZ.

'After six to 12 months of looking hard into these markets, they fall back to a default position and look at Australia as offering good transparency,' Mr Meadows said.

Australia, where nearly 70 per cent of investment-grade buildings are securitised, ranks second in the world for property market transparency, behind Canada, according to a Jones Lang LaSalle index. Japan comes in at 26 on the list, with China's main cities at 49 and India at 50. -- Reuters

Lehman's Fall Marks Office Rent Peak Here

Source : The Business Times, September 18, 2008

Consultants expect demand for prime office space to ease as growth slows

The collapse of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc may contribute to an easing of demand for prime office space in Singapore, where commercial rents are already peaking amid slowing economic growth, property consultants said.

Downcycle: Grade A office rents will probably drop to $14 psf a month in 2009 from $16 this year, and fall further to $10 in 2010, when the first phase of Marina Bay Financial Centre is completed, says Merrill Lynch

The market turmoil that also this week forced the sale of Merrill Lynch & Co to Bank of America Corp and a bailout of American International Group Inc will probably further slow expansion by international companies in Singapore, said analysts at DTZ Debenham Tie Leung and Cushman & Wakefield.

'Rents have peaked and with the collapse of Lehman and the further shakeout in financial markets, this is going to accelerate,' said Ong Choon Fah, Singapore-based regional head of research at DTZ Debenham, a property consulting firm. 'Financial companies are the ones occupying the very prime space and a lot of them are in survival mode.'

Home prices and office rents in Singapore have cooled after rising to records last year, and Colliers International said this month that office-vacancy rates in the US will rise to the highest in three years as financial-services companies slash jobs after reporting writedowns of US$515.8 billion.

Gains in Singapore office rents will be limited as global economic growth slows, the property researchers said. Singapore's economy is forecast to grow between 4 per cent and 5 per cent this year, slowing from 7.7 per cent in 2007, as demand for Asian-made goods wanes and writedowns mount at banks and securities firms.

Lehman, which this week filed the biggest Chapter 11 bankruptcy in history, occupies office space in Suntec Real Estate Investment Trust's Suntec development. The firm has about 270 employees in Singapore.

Suntec Reit, a property trust partly owned by Hong Kong billionaire Li Ka-shing, has dropped 26 per cent in Singapore trading this year. CapitaCommercial Trust, an office landlord run by South-east Asia's largest developer, has slumped 36 per cent during the period.

So-called Grade A office rents will probably drop to about S$14 a square foot a month in 2009 from S$16 this year, Merrill Lynch analysts led by Kar Weng Loo estimated in an Aug 26 report.

Rents may fall further to S$10 in 2010, when the first phase of the 2.6 million-square-foot Marina Bay Financial Centre is scheduled to be completed, and to S$8 by 2011, the brokerage said. For the second half of 2008, rents for prime office space will be little changed after climbing about 7 per cent in the previous six months, said Donald Han, Singapore-based managing director of Cushman & Wakefield. Still, supply of prime office space is likely to remain tight until 2010 and any office space vacated by Lehman will probably be filled quickly, Mr Han said.

'The market is still in a very healthy state and occupancy in Suntec, where Lehman has its offices, is in excess of 96 per cent,' Mr Han said.

'The only issue is that negative sentiment will creep in, with the fact that such a big investment bank that has a long history of operating in Singapore is collapsing will shock the market.' - Bloomberg

Property Transactions With Contract Dates Between Sept 1st - 6th, 2008

$5.8m Confidence Boost For SC Global From CEO

Source : The Straits Times, Sep 18, 2008

He buys 7.79m shares to shore up prices; another director buys 500,000

THE boss of high-end residential property developer SC Global Developments has given a $5.8 million vote of confidence in the firm just as its share price was diving.

Mr Simon Cheong, SC Global's chairman and chief executive, bought 7.79 million shares at 75 cents each through a married deal on Tuesday.

The price Mr Cheong paid in his $5.8 million splurge was at a hefty premium of about 23 per cent over the counter's market price of 61 cents per share the same day. SC Global had fallen over 21 per cent over the five previous days. It closed unchanged at 61 cents yesterday.

Also on Tuesday, Mr David Tsang, SC Global's executive director and director of corporate finance, also bought 500,000 shares for 75 cents apiece.

The two directors bought the shares in their own individual capacities.

A filing to the Singapore Exchange yesterday showed Mr Cheong made his purchase through Edenlia, a wholly owned unit of Cheong SP Holdings, in which Mr Cheong has a controlling interest.

Mr Tsang also purchased the shares via a married deal, through T1 Capital, in which he has a controlling interest.

The counter party is not known as the deal was done through brokers.

'We suspect the sellers were likely to be a group of individuals rather than sale of shares by an institution,' said Cazenove analyst George Koh.

'This purchase by both the executive directors is good news as the purchase price of 75 cents is still at a substantial discount to SC Global's first-half 2008 net asset value of 97 cents,' he said.

The transaction raises Mr Cheong's deemed stake to 210.49 million shares, or 53.305 per cent of issued share capital. He also has a direct stake of 610,000 shares, or 0.154 per cent.

Mr Tsang's deemed stake is now 5.712 million shares, or 1.447 per cent of SC Global's issued share capital. He also has a direct stake of 825,946 million shares, or 0.209 per cent.

Said Mr Cheong on their purchase of the shares: 'We know the company well, and we see value, that's why we bought.'

The company said it received strong response during private previews of its latest project, Martin No. 38. All the 30 units it released in the first phase of marketing have been sold, with the average price at about $2,130 per sq ft (psf), above the expected price of close to $2,000 psf.

SC Global is down over 74 per cent since the start of the year, compared to a 29.5 per cent decline in the benchmark Straits Times Index, reflecting a cooling residential property market.

DBS Vickers, which has a 'hold' rating on the firm, said in a report earlier this month that the 'high-end sentiment has to turn before SC Global can experience a re-rating, and that change in sentiment will likely lag the catalyst of improved economic sentiment'.

Last January, businessman Oei Hong Leong cashed out all his shares in the developer, leading some market observers to question if the high-end luxury market was close to peaking. He disposed of his 6.78 per cent stake, amounting to 9.824 million shares, in a married deal done through Oei Hong Leong Foundation.

Far East Mall Banks On F&B

Source : The Straits Times, Sep 18, 2008

Upcoming Orchard Central to dedicate about 35% of retail space, or 4 storeys, to eateries

WHEN it comes to sating retail appetites, food and beverage (F&B) is playing a bigger part in drawing shoppers to malls here.

That is why Far East Organization's upcoming project in Somerset Road has dedicated four storeys, or close to 35 per cent of net lettable retail space, to eateries.

An artist's impression of The Med, Orchard Central's second basement, the only floor to feature an entirely Mediterranean theme. More than half of the basement will be given over to F&B. -- PHOTO ILLUSTRATION: FAR EAST ORGANIZATION

This concentration of food outlets at Orchard Central will be one of the highest in a Far East Organization mall.

Its Central at Clarke Quay also has about 35 per cent of lettable area dedicated to F&B outlets.

Ms Susan Leng, Far East's deputy director of retail management, told The Straits Times: 'For Singaporeans, yes, (the top draw) is food. Usually when we go out, we first ask, 'Where do we eat?' After eating, we will say, 'Okay, let's shop around'.

'Ten years ago, maybe 18 to 20 per cent of a mall was F&B; today, it is at least 25 to 30 per cent.'

It may be a clever strategy, given that the economy is slowing and global financial markets are in turmoil. After all, even when times are bad, people still have to fill their tummies.

That is why Orchard Central yesterday said that more than half of the second basement of its 12-storey mall will be given over to F&B.

Called The Med, the basement will feature an entirely Mediterranean theme, from the pebbles on the floor to the ceiling lamps and wall signs.

The idea is to create an open bazaar feel found in countries like Italy, Greece and Morocco.

Far East has dedicated 70 per cent of the basement's net lettable area of 14,370 sq ft to F&B. Three anchor restaurants will occupy 40 per cent of that space.

The remaining 30 per cent of the basement will comprise fashion and accessories outlets and household and decor shops, all selling 'Mediterranean themed' items like spices and carpets.

It will be Orchard Central's only themed floor.

'Our strategy is to get unique brands (for the restaurants), not to have chain-store concepts,' said Ms Leng. This includes bringing in new eateries and working with well-known restaurateurs to devise Mediterranean-themed ones.

'The incremental cost may not be that significant,' she added. 'But I think we are able to give a lot more value-added to our retailers.'

This includes pre-fitting shop units with Mediterranean-themed infrastructure, which Ms Leng said will save fit-out costs for all tenants on that floor.

Ms Leng said Orchard Central plans to have more than 80 per cent of leases for The Med signed by the end of November.

She also rejected suggestions that the fresh financial turmoil in the United States will impact the take-up rate.

'Retailers are in for the long haul. In fact, they may see this as an opportunity to bargain for a better rate,' said Ms Leng.

She added that Orchard Central is on schedule to start trading next April, while The Med should be running by June.

Orchard Central Over 50% Leased

Source : The Business Times, September 18, 2008

Mall says more tenants in pipeline; confident despite economic turmoil

FAR East Organization's Orchard Central mall is more than 50 per cent leased some six months ahead of completion, the developer told BT yesterday.

A different world: Orchard Central's high-traffic basement two will have a Mediterranean concept with food and goods coming from countries such as Italy, Spain, France, Turkey, Morocco and Greece

Rents at the mall, which has a net lettable area of 250,000 square feet, range from $20 per sq ft per month (psf pm) to more than $70 psf pm, said Far East deputy director for retail management Susan Leng. 'We are still negotiating with a lot of potential tenants who are not in Singapore,' she said.

Because of this, some leases are taking longer to tie down. But more tenants are in the pipeline, she said. The mall is expected to be completed in Q1 next year.

In July, Ion Orchard - a joint project by Singapore's CapitaLand and Hong Kong's Sun Hung Kai Properties, above Orchard MRT station - also said that it is 50 per cent leased. Tenants are paying base rent of up to $80 psf pm.

Both projects have been dogged by rumours of poor demand for space amid the current financial market turmoil.

The upcoming 313@Somerset - the third of only three new malls to come up on Orchard Road in more than a decade - has yet give any details on leasing or tenant mix. In May, Australian group Lend Lease Retail, which is developing the mall, said that it had started marketing to potential tenants six months earlier.

Ms Leng said that Orchard Central faces no problem. 'I am fairly confident. Business has to carry on, even though economic cycles come and go.'

Unlike Ion Orchard, Orchard Central is looking for mid-range tenants because it is aimed at young working professionals. The fact that no luxury tenants have been named so far is not a concern, Ms Leng said.

She also unveiled the concept for Orchard Central's high-traffic basement two. The level - which is expected to see high footfall because of its links to Somerset MRT station and shopping centres Centrepoint, Specialist Centre and 313@Somerset - will have a Mediterranean concept and will be called The Med.

With lettable area of 14,370 sq ft, The Med will house retail, lifestyle and F&B units such as restaurants, cafes, ice-cream parlours, wine and cheese specialty shops, bakeries, pizza shops, chocolatiers, delicatessens and florists. Food and goods featured will come from countries such as Italy, Spain, France, Turkey, Morocco and Greece. The level is designed by local firm DP Architects.

Strong Demand Cuts HDB's Stock Of Unsold Units

Source : The Business Times, September 18, 2008

Bookings for new flats jump 49% to 12,580 in financial year ended March

THE strong property market in the Housing and Development Board's (HDB) last financial year whittled down its stock of unsold flats. The board now holds about 1,500 completed units, compared with 3,500 last year.

Reflecting the boom, bookings for new flats rose 49 per cent year on year to 12,580 in the financial year ended March 31.

'There has been an increase in demand for new flats,' HDB chief executive Tay Kim Poh said at a press briefing on the board's annual report. 'We have been ramping up the building programme.'

The growing need for public housing prompted HDB to offer 8,400 new Build-To-Order (BTO) flats this year - 40 per cent higher than the 6,000 last year and more than three times the 2,400 in 2006.

Of this year's planned supply, about 5,000 new flats have already been launched, leaving more than 3,000 for the remaining months of 2008.

More flats from the BTO pipeline will be situated at Punggol and Sengkang. About 2,500 units are in Punggol, as part of HDB's plan to build up a critical mass to support a thriving town centre. The other new flats will be spread across various towns including Yishun, Woodlands and Bukit Panjang.

HDB has not decided on the supply of new BTO flats for 2009.

'We'll monitor demand,' said Mr Tay. 'When necessary, we'll make adjustments to our building programme to make sure our supply matches demand.'

ERA Asia-Pacific's assistant vice-president Eugene Lim said: 'So far, take-up for new BTO flats has been pretty good.'

Demand comes largely from first-time buyers, he said. But it can take up to three years for such flats to be ready, so some buyers turn instead to existing units in the resale market.

PropNex chief executive Mohamed Ismail expects demand for resale housing to remain strong, and reckons the Resale Price Index may grow another 5 per cent in H2 2008. The HDB market should suffer little or no effect from the US financial crisis, he said.

According to HDB's Mr Tay, resale flat demand has been driven by various market segments, including permanent residents and first-time and second-time home buyers. No details have been released on the profiles of resale flat buyers.

Beyond new and resale flats, demand for rental flats has also grown, prompting HDB to build another 2,000 units this year.

It plans to increase its stock of rental flats from 42,000 now to about 50,000 in the next few years and is reviewing eligibility rules to ensure these units go to people in genuine need.

HDB completed 6,247 flats last financial year, more than three times the number the year before. HDB also had 18,073 flats under construction, 27 per cent more than in the previous year.

Against a backdrop of rising construction costs, Mr Tay reaffirmed HDB's commitment to keep flats affordable. 'We are monitoring the situation closely,' he said.

According to HDB, a new four-room flat can cost about $300,000 to develop today, taking into account land, building and other costs. This is higher than the subsidised price of a four-room flat sold by HDB at $200,000 to $260,000.

HDB's greatest challenge is to continue to ensure that people in the mass consumer segment have affordable roofs over their heads, said PropNex's Mr Ismail. 'This may mean having to review certain policies, such as the income ceiling for HDB flat applicants, and perhaps even abolishing the resale levy.'

Temporary Housing Sites Still Needed

Source : The Strait Times, Sep 18, 2008

THE foreign worker population here went up by 102,000 last year, double the jump of 55,000 a year ago.

And with major contruction works lined up, a let-up is unlikely.

The influx is ruffling a growing number of feathers too: Complaints relating to illegal housing of foreign workers numbered 300 last year, but the number has already shot past 300 so far this year.

National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan said yesterday that restricting the number of foreign workers is not an option for the next couple of years if the economy is to grow.

The question is how they can be housed properly and, until more permanent housing becomes available in 2011, temporary facilities have to be created from nowvacant state buildings.

As at the end of last year, there were 577,000 foreign workers here, excluding maids. Of these, 180,000, or one-third, were doing construction work.

An estimated 80,000 to 100,000 are housed in illegal accommodations or living in conditions that are 'not ideal', Mr Mah noted.

Given that minimum standards of public health should be provided where they live, he listed four ways to house them.

# Residential housing: in rented public housing or in private residential developments.

# On-site living: on the grounds of or close to large construction projects.

# Purpose-built dormitories: sited further away from residential areas or within or near industrial estates.

# Factory-converted dormitories: Factory owners can convert 40 per cent of their industrial premises into dormitories. Guidelines have also been relaxed to allow such facilities to operate as commercial dorms.

But he noted that pursuing these options still leaves a housing shortage for foreign workers in the short term. This makes it necessary to identify sites for temporary accommodation lasting two to five years. Ten sites are being explored for such use.

But even if all these sites are converted into housing for workers, it will still not totally meet the demand, said Mr Mah.

He stressed that while efforts would be made to house workers in ways that would minimise noise and inconvenience to nearby residents, it would not be socially desirable or possible to totally segregate them.

With Singapore's limited land area, creating huge foreign workers' communities like those in the Middle East would not be possible, he added.

Does the lack of housing for foreign workers reflect poor planning?

Mr Mah said projects such as the two integrated resorts needed construction workers, and large investments calling for huge factories also required process workers.

'Yes, we do some planning but the build-up of the spaces requires quite a lot of lead time so we could not anticipate that...To call it poor planning, to call it one of the problems of success because we were so successful, we did not anticipate this kind of issue.'

One option, he said, was to look into building self-contained complexes or campuses that house up to 20,000 workers.

Dorms In Serangoon Gardens

Source : The Straits Times, Sep 18, 2008

No decision made yet, says Mah

But integration of foreign workers is a larger issue that must be tackled

No decision has been made about setting up a foreign worker dormitory in Serangoon Gardens, but it is hoped it will come in a couple of weeks.

National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan, disclosing this to reporters yesterday, also took the opportunity to raise a larger issue - that of balancing the economic growth that foreign workers bring with the ‘disamenities’ to local residents.

He said it was impossible to segregate the foreign worker population - now at 577,000, excluding domestic maids - so Singaporeans must ‘be prepared to see them and share with them our common spaces’.

The issue of housing foreign workers in residential areas was thrown into sharp relief two weeks ago when residents in Serangoon Gardens heard that the former Serangoon Gardens Technical School in their neighbourhood was to be converted into a dormitory for 1,000 foreign workers.

A petition against the move was started and, at a dialogue session with their MPs, many residents were vocal about the prospects of traffic congestion and the lack of security if foreign workers were to move into their estate.

Mr Mah said he had noted their concerns and saw why they were upset.

‘They felt it was already a done deal, that we had made up our minds,’ he said.

He went on to say that no decision had been made yet, and that information on the proposal was leaked to Serangoon Gardens residents prematurely, before a feasibility study on whether the site could be shortlisted for further use was completed.

It had not even been decided who would be housed there - construction workers or workers in manufacturing - or how many workers would be housed, he said.

If the site were to be shortlisted, his ministry would then consult the MPs and grassroots leaders for the area, he added.

Unfortunately, before the study was completed, ’someone somewhere made a mistake and it went out, and there was a miscommunication’.

Ms Sujata Jayaram, 43, who chairs the Chartwell neighbourhood committee, said: ‘I’m glad to hear it is not a done deal, and I hope Mr Mah will listen to the residents. We’ll just have to keep our fingers crossed.’

The minister added that fewer than 10 sites - vacant tracts of state land and properties like the former Serangoon Gardens Technical School - were being considered as temporary dorms, good for the next three to five years.

Mr Mah said it concerned him to see the debate on foreign workers framed as ‘one group against another’ - those in landed property versus those in public housing, or foreigners versus locals.

‘We should move away from the zero sum - I win, you lose - kind of situation and move the debate into something a lot more meaningful, a lot more constructive,’ he said.

The larger issue was segregation and integration, he added.

It was not ideal to segregate foreign workers in their own communities, and ‘even if we wanted to do it in Singapore, the land is so scarce’, he said.

He urged Singaporeans to consider the role of foreign workers and the larger social issue of how to ‘accept and live with a larger foreign worker population’.

Everyone - the foreign workers, locals, employers and government agencies - could play a role.

The Government, on its part, has formed an inter-ministry committee to look into housing, infrastructure and amenities for foreign workers.

Mr Mah also said it was wrong to ‘demonise’ foreign workers.

‘I’m not saying all foreign workers are angels, but neither am I saying all of them are criminals,’ he said.

‘The truth is, there will be some black sheep, but by and large, most of them are here to earn a living, not to create problems.’

He added that Singaporeans must understand these workers keep a lid on costs and help the economy to grow.

‘Without them, we will be worse off. That’s a fact,’ he said.

Coming Up: 3,000 More HDB Flats

Source : The Straits Times, Sep 18, 2008

Govt to release more units for sale by year’s end as demand for homes doubles

THE Government will release 3,000 more HDB flats for sale by the end of the year, amid a doubling of demand for flats by home buyers.

‘Demand for new flats from young couples has definitely gone up since 2006,’ Mr Tay Kim Poh, the HDB’s chief executive, told reporters at the release of the board’s annual report on Tuesday.

Flat buyers bought 11,991 new flats in the year ended March 31, more than double the 5,712 recorded the year before.

To meet demand, the Housing Board has already released over 5,000 flats for sale so far this year, out of a planned 8.400 for the whole year. This is 40 per cent more than last year’s 6,000, which was already higher than the year before. Next year, ’should the demand remain strong’, the HDB ‘will release just as many’ flats, Mr Tay said.

For now, though, ‘unless our population grows very fast, there is no need to build at the same level as the 1980s’, he added.

The HDB’s unsold stock has dwindled from about 2,000 flats last year to some 1,500 now. Hopeful buyers have complained of difficulties and long waits in trying to secure a home.

‘Young couples looking for a flat should not come to us for a new flat. We don’t have a ready supply,’ Mr Tay said.

First-time buyers who are not particular about location, however, usually bag a flat on their first or second try, he said.

He also stressed that while the board is ‘concerned’ about rising construction costs, HDB flats remain ‘very affordable’. At this point, flat buyers are using about 20 per cent of their incomes to service their loans, and most do not have to use all of their Central Provident Fund money, he said.

‘When we price our flats, we don’t link it to development costs, but to market prices. If market prices stabilise, like they are appearing to do now, our flat prices will also be stable.’

Higher construction expenses, which by some estimates have risen by 20 per cent to 30 per cent in the last year, have hit the HDB less severely than some private developers. The board buys materials in bulk to supply to its contractors, mitigating the increase in costs, said Mr Sng Cheng Keh, its director of development and procurement.

For this year, the HDB’s focus is to meet the ‘rising aspirations’ of flat buyers and dwellers, said Mr Tay.

2,000 More Rental Flats To Be Built

Source : The Straits Times, Sep 18, 2008

THE Housing Board (HDB) has announced that it will build another 2,000 rental flats, to cater to rising demand from needy families.

As at the end of last month, the HDB was managing about 43,000 one- and two-room rental flats for the Public Rental Scheme. It has set a goal of expanding this to 50,000 in three years.

Speaking at the HDB Annual Report 2007/2008 press conference, the board’s chief executive Tay Kim Poh said rental housing was a key option for genuinely needy families unable to buy a flat.

‘To meet their needs, HDB increased the supply by converting existing flats into rental flats and resuming the building of new rental flats. Almost 1,000 converted units were added to our rental housing stock,’ he said.

Conversion works at another two blocks in Redhill are also under way and, when completed, would add another 350 units of one- and two-room rental flats for allocation from early next year.

Demand for rental flats has been on the rise. In its financial year 2006, the HDB received 5,643 applications to rent flats. The following year, that number rose to 5,970.

Last month, the Government announced it would be introducing new rules on HDB rental flat eligibility in order to stamp out abuse of the system.

The Government is studying issues including checks to see if siblings and children of applicants own private property and requiring flat sellers to deposit part of their sales proceeds into their Central Provident Fund accounts.

The HDB said it would complete the review by year-end, and would release details after that.

Foreign Workers' Dormitory Points To Larger Issues

Source : The Straits Times, Sep 18, 2008

No decision made yet, says Mah

By Melissa Sim

But integration of foreign workers is a larger issue that must be tackled.

NO DECISION has been made about setting up a foreign worker dormitory in Serangoon Gardens, but it is hoped it will come in a couple of weeks.

National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan, disclosing this to reporters yesterday, also took the opportunity to raise a larger issue - that of balancing the economic growth that foreign workers bring with the 'disamenities' to local residents.

He said it was impossible to segregate the foreign worker population - now at 577,000, excluding domestic maids - so Singaporeans must 'be prepared to see them and share with them our common spaces'.


Temporary housing sites still needed

By Ang Yiying

Mah: Despite 4 options to house them, there's space shortage in short term.

THE foreign worker population here went up by 102,000 last year, double the jump of 55,000 a year ago.

And with major contruction works lined up, a let-up is unlikely.

The influx is ruffling a growing number of feathers too: Complaints relating to illegal housing of foreign workers numbered 300 last year, but the number has already shot past 300 so far this year.


All-round effort to help them fit in

By Ang Yiying

The Straits Times finds out how the problems of housing foreign workers were solved in different parts of Singapore.

NATIONAL Development Minister Mah Bow Tan yesterday held up Jalan Kayu as a residential area which has made efforts to accommodate the foreign workers in the neighbourhood.

After two dorms housing 6,000 workers were built there three years ago, a fence was built to get around the problem of foreign workers taking short-cuts through the residential areas, said Mr Wee Siew Kim, a Member of Parliament for Ang Mo Kio GRC and adviser to the Jalan Kayu grassroots groups.

Another move: Including recreational amenities within the dorm compound, and setting up a beer garden near the dormitories so foreign workers do not need to gather in public spaces.


A place to unwind after work

By Melissa Sim

A RECREATION complex for foreign workers living in Jurong West will come up by the end of this year.

The complex, now being built in Soon Lee Road, will house a football field, an amphitheatre for ethnic movies, multi-purpose sports courts, postal & remittance facilities, a beer garden, a medical station, a canteen, a supermarket with ethnic foods and lots of open spaces.

Mr Cedric Foo, a Member of Parliament for West Coast GRC, told The Straits Times: 'This is a way to show our appreciation for their contributions to the economy and also provide them proper facilities to unwind, relax and socialise after work. Such a facility sure beats HDB void decks.'

Japan In Recession: Survey Says

Source : AFP, Thu, Sep 18, 2008

TOKYO - SOME 85 per cent of major Japanese companies believe the nation is already in recession and most say the economy would only recover late next year, according to a survey published on Thursday.

About 71 per cent of 209 leading companies polled said the world's second largest economy was in a gradual recession and 14 per cent said it was in a definite recession, the Tokyo Shimbun said.

The latest poll, conducted from late August to mid-September, was a sharp contrast to the previous survey in April, when 61 per cent saw the economy as flat and 19 per cent said it was going down.

As for concerns, the companies cited price rises in oil and other commodities, the course of the US economy, weakening consumer spending and the spread of the subprime mortgage problems stemming from the United States.

The survey found virtually no one who believed the economy would recover this year.

Fifty-one per cent said it would pick up in the second half of 2009 and 19 per cent in the April-June quarter.

Japan's economy contracted in the second quarter by a revised 3.0 per cent on an annual basis.

Economist generally define a recession as two quarters of negative growth.

The Bank of Japan said on Wednesday that it expected the economy to remain sluggish for now amid global market turmoil but also voiced relief that commodity prices seemed to be stabilising.

Asia At Risk From US Fallout

Source : The Straits Times, Sep 18, 2008

MANILA - THE Asian Development Bank (ADB) warned on Thursday that Asia's financial institutions remain at risk from US financial turmoil even if the region's losses from the sub-prime crisis have been lower than elsewhere.

Asia appear to be cushioned against immediate effects of the turmoil with its growing domestic demand, rising foreign currency reserves and healthy current accounts, but vulnerabilities remain, ADB President Haruhiko Kuroda told a Manila regional forum on the US sub-prime mortgage crisis.

'Even if subprime-related losses have to date been lower than elsewhere, there is no guarantee recent events will not affect major Asian financial institutions,' Mr Kuroda said.

He called for the establishment of an 'Asian Financial Stability Dialogue' among finance ministers, central banks and financial regulators in the region to coordinate regulatory development and improve surveillance of the region's financial markets.

'This week's turbulence only underlines the urgent need for central banks and regulators to assess the underlying problems and build a cogent and proactive plan of action to better preserve regional financial stability,' Mr Kuroda said.

Mr Keith Lui, executive director for market supervision of Hong Kong's Securities and Futures Commission, said the crisis will have minimal impact in Asia given the region's limited exposure to sub-prime credit products.

The region has also been strengthened by post-1997 Asian financial crisis reforms, including a more robust regulatory and infrastructure framework and enhanced governance, he added.

But Mr David Fernandez, head of JP Morgan's Emerging Asia Research, said pain from the US financial crisis is being felt most acutely in Asia, where stock markets are now among worst performing among emerging economies.

Asian stocks tumbled on Thursday as investors feared more financial institutions could succumb to the global financial crisis after the collapse of Lehman Brothers and government bailout of American International Group. -- AP

KPE To Open On Saturday

Source : The Straits Times, Sep 18, 2008

AFTER seven years of construction, the entire 12km-long Kallang-Paya Lebar Expressway (KPE) opens up to motorists on Saturday morning.

Joining the Tampines Expressway near Tampines Road to the East Coast Parkway at Fort Road, the expressway is aimed to help residents in the north-east areas connect to the city. -- PHOTO: ZAO BAO

Joining the Tampines Expressway near Tampines Road to the East Coast Parkway at Fort Road, the expressway is aimed to help residents in the north-east areas connect to the city.

These will include residents in the Hougang, Sengkang and Punggol estates.

With 25 entrances and exits from the expressway including Bartley Road, Upper Paya Lebar Road and Tampines Road, motorists can use the KPE as an alternative to the Central Expressway and Upper Serangoon Road.

Will the KPE open up a new route to work for you or change your daily driving pattern?


Source : 《联合早报》September 18, 2008


























Source :《联合早报》September 18, 2008












建屋局确保国人 能负担新组屋售价


建屋局也承诺会确保新加坡人负担得起新组屋。郑锦宝说,大多数组屋屋主每月付还的分期付款占月入20%左右,每月缴交的公积金已足够偿还分期付款,人们一般无须动用实得工资(take-home pay);这表示组屋售价在大多数人的负担能力范围内。