March 3, 2023
SINGAPORE – By 2026, all 374 coffee shops let out by the Housing Board will be required to sell budget meals to keep food affordable in the heartland.
Currently, 72 such coffee shops offer these budget meals, which typically cost around $3 to $3.50, with black coffee at around $1 to $1.15.
Responding to MPs including Mr Xie Yao Quan (Jurong GRC), Mr Gan Thiam Poh (Ang Mo Kio GRC) and Associate Professor Jamus Lim (Sengkang GRC) on affordability of meals, Senior Minister of State for National Development Sim Ann said on Thursday that the Government has heard “ground concerns about rising costs of living and want to proactively ensure that our residents can continue to access affordable cooked food options within neighbourhoods”.
That is why the affordable food scheme, launched in 2018 for the tender of HDB’s new coffee shops, is being expanded to include older coffee shops due for their three-yearly tenancy renewal from May 2023 onwards. Under the fresh leases, these coffee shops will have to provide four budget meals and two budget drinks – black coffee and tea.
Operators and stallholders will get a 5 per cent discount on the renewal rents for one year to help offer these meals, said Ms Sim.
HDB said there “may be some differences in budget food options” between new coffee shops which are able to factor the cheaper meals into their tenders and those where the leases are being renewed.
For the older coffee shops coming on board from May, the prices of these meals will be proposed by the operator and reviewed by HDB “to ensure they are reasonable and remain affordable in reference to nearby options”.
This helps to peg the price of budget meals to market prices, said HDB, adding that “operators would also have more incentive to make good on a price that they themselves proposed”.
The 402 coffee shops that HDB has sold will not have to offer budget meals, but Ms Sim said she will speak to the operators to stress the importance of affordable food options.
She said the Government may consider “time-limited” funding to cushion the potential impact of the rising cost of estate maintenance on residents, when addressing a suggestion from Mr Murali Pillai (Bukit Batok) that the funding for town councils should be reviewed.
This will help to support “town councils that continue to make adjustments in service and conservancy charges to meet long-term financial sustainability goals”.
Currently, the Government disburses grants collectively amounting to $239 million a year to town councils.
Several MPs, including Mr Liang Eng Hwa (Bukit Panjang), asked for more support for businesses in HDB towns.
Ms Sim replied that under HDB’s Revitalisation of Shops scheme, shop owners will now co-pay 5 per cent of upgrading costs for common infrastructure, down from 20 per cent previously. HDB will bear the difference by funding 85 per cent of the costs, up from 70 per cent. The relevant town council will pay the rest, although the total budget remains capped at $35,000 for each shop.
HDB will also co-fund 80 per cent of the costs for optional improvements such as installing roller shutters, capped at $3,000 for each shop. This new funding category under the revitalisation scheme will encourage shop owners to upgrade their shopfronts alongside upgrading the common areas, said HDB.
Ms Sim said HDB will raise support for social enterprises and businesses with inclusive hiring practices.
Social enterprises that are members of the Singapore Centre for Social Enterprise which apply for a shop space will get a 30 per cent rental discount for their first three-year tenancy, up from 20 per cent.
The discount will be extended to the subsequent three-year tenancy. It will also be offered to shops where at least 20 per cent of the staff are people with disabilities or special needs.
Across the island, 30 shop spaces will be set aside for these social enterprises and businesses, up from the current 15.
The 2018 Entrepreneur Scheme to encourage start-ups to set up shop in new HDB neighbourhood centres by directly allocating them spaces is also being enhanced with a 10 per cent rental discount for the first three years of tenancy.
The proportion of vacant shops set aside for the scheme will be increased to 10 per cent from 5 per cent, totalling about 30 shops each year.