Let young single Singaporeans buy state-built homes, says billionaire

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 28 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 28 March, 2013, 2:57am

Billionaire Bhupendra Kumar Modi, who became a Singapore citizen last year, is urging his adopted nation to end a ban on young unmarried people owning state-built homes because it hurts one of the city's key goals: making babies.

Modi's Global Citizens Forum, which the Spice Group chairman started this year to help youths worldwide, will ask the government to change a policy that means single adults must be over 35 to buy flats built by the Housing & Development Board (HDB). Modi says lowering the age to 25 would encourage sexual relationships and earlier marriages, helping to counter a slump in the birthrate that's depriving the economy of workers.

"Most of the girls and boys these days would like to have sex before they marry," said Modi, 64, who has three children and five grandchildren. "There are no virgin marriages."

Most of the girls and boys these days would like to have sex before they marry. There are no virgin marriages

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong is treading a line between reining in soaring property prices that put housing ownership beyond the means of many Singaporeans, and encouraging more citizens to settle down and start a family sooner. Over the past decade, Singaporeans are marrying later and now barely produce enough children to replace one parent, let alone two.

Modi's proposal may touch a nerve, especially among religious leaders and others who oppose premarital sex.

"There will be two sources of resistance - the conservative groups who would see this as a challenge to the traditional family unit and those worried about the costs," said Bridget Welsh, an associate professor at Singapore Management University.

With 82 per cent of Singaporeans living in apartments built by the state, housing policy has been used to encourage the development of families. Grants are given to married couples buying their first homes, with additional funds for those living close to their parents.

The government is unlikely to lower the age for singles as it will "put additional pressure on property prices," said Carmen Lee of OCBC Investment Research.

Helping singles move out of their parents' homes earlier would accelerate decisions on marriage and parenthood, Modi, who estimates his net worth at US$2 billion, said.