Established on 1 February 1960, the Housing and Development Board (HDB) was formed for the primary functions of managing new and existing buildings, the clearance and redevelopment of slums and urban areas, and the development of rural and agricultural areas for resettlement. These tasks were previously undertaken by the Singapore Improvement Trust (SIT), but the latter was replaced by the HDB due to its poor performance. At the time, the HDB’s most urgent task was to provide low-cost public housing to a growing population, particularly low-income groups who lived in high-risk dilapidated housing structures with overcrowded, unsanitary living conditions. Singapore’s rate of natural increase then was 4.3 percent, that is, about 60,000 citizens added to the population each year.
After Singapore attained self-government in June 1959, a large number of experienced professional and technical officers at SIT either resigned or were served leaving notices. Only a handful of officers remained, together with several newly recruited local officers who had no practical experience.
According to the Housing Development Board Act, a board was to be set up for HDB comprising a chairman, deputy chairman, and no less than three but no more than five members, all of whom were appointed by the Minister for Law and National Development. Led by Chairman Lim Kim San, the Board of HDB comprised Reginald Quahe (deputy chairman), Cheng Kai Shui, Fong Kim Heng and Lim Chong Keat. The board began to build up the staff strength of the HDB. It retained experienced officers and recruited qualified workers to form the seven departments of HDB — Secretariat, Finance, Statistics and Research, Building, Estates, Urban Renewal and Resettlement. These departments worked directly with chief executive officer, Howe Yoon Cheong, as well as Lim. As a result, decisions were made quickly and work coordinated effectively. This restored staff confidence and boosted their morale.
A major focus of the HDB was to provide affordable housing for low-income families. The government rented out HDB flats at $20 per month (estimated to be no more than 20 percent of the average wage earner’s monthly income) to address this need. Each flat had piped water, electricity, gas, modern sanitation and convenient refuse disposal chutes. Planning not just for isolated blocks of flats, the HDB built housing estates, providing residents with pleasant surroundings and easy access to basic amenities. The low rentals could not cover the cost of construction, hence the government provided the HDB with a housing subsidy.
The HDB rolled out its first five-year building programme, launching 51,031 housing units between 1961 and 1965 at an estimated cost of $194.1 million. At least 10,000 low-cost flats were set aside for low-income groups. These flats were situated near the central area where many low-income groups conducted their livelihoods. At the end of 1960, the HDB had completed 1,682 units, with about 6,608 flats under construction.
1. Housing and Development Board. (1965). 50,000 up: Homes for the people [Meningkat 50,000: Rumah untok ra’yat] (p. 26). Singapore: Housing and Development Board. Call no.: RCLOS 363.585095957 SIN; 2 new boards take over from the S.I.T. (1960, February 1). The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
2. Housing and Development Board, 1960, pp. 1–7, 13; Housing and Development Board. (1970). First decade in public housing, 1960–69 (pp. 7–8), Singapore: Housing and Development Board. Call no. : RSING q301.54 HOU; Housing and Development Board, 1965, p. 26; From one-room to pre-fab flats. (1985, October 13).The Straits Times, p. 33. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
3. Housing and Development Board. (1960). Annual report (p. 7). Singapore: Housing and Development Board. Call no: RCLOS: 711.4095957 SIN-[AR]; Housing and Development Board, 1965, p. 7; Minister Tan opens $230 mil. housing project exhibition. (1960, December 11). The Straits Times, p. 11. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; A flat every 45 minutes. (1964, August 31). The Straits Times, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
4. Housing and Development Board, 1960, pp. 6–7; Big SIT shake-up: 72 quit or are given notice. (1959, September 28). The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
5. Singapore. The Statutes of the Republic of Singapore. (2004 Rev. ed.).Housing and Development Act (Cap. 129). Retrieved from Singapore Statutes Online: http://statutes.agc.gov.sg/aol/search/display/view.w3p;ident=d794f4b0-e0a4-4938-9e36-16c0f6946b82;page=0;query=DocId%3A%22dfe47bd8-328e-465d-b489-37e3ee37f5e1%22%20Status%3Ainforce%20Depth%3A0%20ValidTime%3A20040731000000%20TransactionTime%3A20150903000000;rec=0#legis;
6. Housing and Development Board, 1970, p. 8; Housing and Development Board, 1960, pp. 7, 13; Banker heads Housing Development Board. (1960, February 16). The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
7. Housing and Development Board, 1960, pp. 7–8; Fernandez, W. (2011). Our homes: 50 years of housing a nation (pp. 47–48), Singapore: Straits Times Press. Call no.: RSING 363.585095957 FER.
8. Housing and Development Board, 1960, p. 10; Housing and Development Board, 1965, p. 32; $20 one-room flats to house 20,000 people. (1961, March 25). The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
9. Coming: A housing record. (1960, July 6). The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Fernandez, 2011, p. 50; The Straits Times, 31 Aug 1964, p. 10.
10. Housing and Development Board, 1965, p. 32; The Straits Times, 31 Aug 1964, p. 10.
11. Housing and Development Board, 1960, p. 9; Housing and Development Board, 1965, p. 32; HDB story year by year. (1981, December 15). New Nation, p. 32. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
12. Housing and Development Board, 1960, p. 10; The target is 10,000 units each year. (1961, April 26). The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
13. Fernandez, 2011, p. 49; Housing and Development Board, 1960, p. 10.
The information in this article is valid as at Aug 2015 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.