Home Sweet HDB Homes



Modern-day Singapore’s public housing programmes, planned and managed by the government since the country’s independen­ce, can be considered to be one of the few achievemen­ts which is uniquely Singaporea­n. The British colonial administra­tion only began to tackle seriously the housing crisis in the 1930s with the setting up of the Singapore Improvemen­t Trust (SIT), the predecesso­r of the Housing and Developmen­t Board (HDB). Today, more than 80 percent of the Singapore population lives in government housing flats. How has this been made possible and what were some of the difficulti­es and challenges faced in the journey towards making Singapore a place we can truly call “home sweet home”?


Even before World War Two erupted, Singapore had experience­d an unforeseen massive immigratio­n of people from China and India. New migrants, as well as those already in the colony, were forced to live in dire conditions – with up to five families forced to squeeze into a shophouse meant for a single family!

This problem gave rise to the early housing programme, known as the Singapore Improvemen­t Trust (SIT), developed by the British colonial government in 1924 to review the living conditions in the central area of Singapore. While the efforts were well received, 35 years later, the SIT was only able to provide housing to 8.8 percent of Singapore’s 1.6 million people then. By the time Singapore attained self-government in 1959, the rapidly expanding population had further worsened the housing condition and the shortfall had reached alarming proportion­s. Public housing for lowerincom­e groups was thus given top priority and the HDB was set up in February 1960 to replace the

SIT, marking the beginning of largeachie­ved scale public housing developmen­t in Singapore. Compared to the cramped and unhygienic living conditions in shophouses and squatter areas, flats built by the

HDB seemed luxurious - they were spacious and equipped with basic services such as electricit­y, flush toilets and piped water. By 31 March 1976, the HDB one of its most significan­t milestones by providing housing to more than 50% of the population.


To cater to the demands of an ever-changing Singapore population, HDB schemes are being updated on a regular basis. With their mission to provide Singapore with high quality, environmen­tally sustainabl­e homes at affordable prices and to promote an active and cohesive community, it has become one of the most successful government housing agencies in the world. The majority of public housing estates are self-contained communitie­s with not only the essential facilities to meet the residents’ basic needs but also various community amenities such as schools and recreation­al facilities.

Singapore’s first new town, Queenstown, or fondly called “Princess Margaret Estate” by some, began constructi­on in mid-1952 and was later considered as the model of future town planning. The HDB continued to build the second new town, Toa Payoh. Under the leadership of a dedicated leader, Lim Kim San, the HDB became a huge success in providing affordable and comfortabl­e homes for Singaporea­ns. Today, there are more than 20 new towns and the three largest by population size are Jurong West, Tampines and Woodlands.

There are eight main categories of public housing: oneroom flats, two-room flats, three-room flats, four-room flats, five-room flats, executive flats (including executive apartments and maisonette­s), studio apartments and HUDC flats. The standard designs for new flats have been updated over the years to cater to the changing expectatio­ns and preference­s of buyers. For example, three-room flats did not have a bathroom attached to the master bedroom until the 1970s, and executive flats were launched in the 1980s in response to the desire for bigger flats while the elderly-friendly studio apartments were introduced in 1997.

Such continual changes reflect the

broader shift in the focus of public housing programmes from quantity to quality.

The emphasis on quality also extends beyond the design of the flats to the surroundin­g living environmen­t as evidenced by efforts to improve the landscape architectu­re and enhance the visual identity of housing estates. Upgrading works are also regularly conducted under various estate renewal programmes to prevent physical decay and obsolescen­ce and to enhance the residents’ living environmen­t. Family-friendly social and recreation­al facilities are built in close proximity to provide residents a well-rounded living environmen­t. These include supermarke­ts, hawker centres, clinics, schools, sports complexes, playground­s, parks and gardens.

As a result of the government’s conscious effort to build a nation of homeowners in the belief that home ownership would promote a sense of nationalis­m by giving Singaporea­ns a bigger stake in their country, at the end of March 2008, 95% of public flats were owner-occupied, with the rest being rental flats. The government encourages ownership of public flats by providing concession­ary home loans and housing grants and by allowing Central Provident Fund savings to be used to finance home purchases, subject to conditions. Through the applicatio­n of eligibilit­y conditions, public housing has also been used to support certain government policies such as racial integratio­n and religious harmony.

Town councils were formed in 1989 to empower locally elected representa­tives and its residents to manage their own estates. They are in charge of maintainin­g and developing the common areas of the estates. Town councils are managed by Members of Parliament (MPS) representi­ng their respective constituen­cies. The council is led by the Chairman and selected town councilors. The Chairman is either the MP or someone appointed by the MP of the town.

Even with various housing projects and initiative­s to make public housing a more attractive option, the issue of affordabil­ity is still a main concern for many Singaporea­ns.


The recent furore over the skyrocketi­ng home prices and the lack of availabili­ty of new ones has led many Singaporea­ns to question the purpose of public housing which should primarily be to make housing in Singapore affordable. Unlike the private property market, many had hoped that public housing prices would not be at the mercy of investor speculatio­ns and related market forces.

The influx of cash rich foreigners who have transacted to buy and sell HDB resale flats with relative ease in recent years ©think cink has led to the steep rising prices of HDB apartments. It is after all a case of demand and supply with the free market forces at play. However, this has created unhappines­s, especially among those Singaporea­ns who are unable to afford resale flats. To them, waiting for “brand new” flats to become available has become a long-drawn affair. Other implicatio­ns include delayed marriages amongst younger couples as many prefer to wait for the successful applicatio­n for an

HDB flat prior to tying the knot.


With multiple schemes, developmen­ts and policies in place, the public housing programmes in Singapore have truly provided other countries a benchmark for providing affordable but quality government housing for their people.

Similar to Singapore, Hong Kong had started accelerati­ng its public housing programmes in the early 1960s. Today, nearly half of its population lives in government housing projects. The Hong Kong Housing Authority and the Hong Kong Housing Society manage the constructi­on of such flats, which could either be rented or sold under various government subsidy programmes.

While public housing programmes in Singapore may trump those of most other countries in terms of population management and quality, our prices are still one of the highest. With most of Singaporea­ns having to take up a long-term loan to finance the purchase of their flats, it is imperative that public housing prices are well-managed and kept affordable for all so that Singapore can truly be a place we can call “home sweet home”.

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©Eelin’s 5th eye ©linkway88
 ??  ?? With these concerns in mind, the Singapore government has implemente­d some “cooling measures” to help Singaporea­ns manage with rising housing prices. Some of these measures include putting up new housing projects all across the island and giving priority to first-time home owners.
With these concerns in mind, the Singapore government has implemente­d some “cooling measures” to help Singaporea­ns manage with rising housing prices. Some of these measures include putting up new housing projects all across the island and giving priority to first-time home owners.

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