Public housing in Singapore



Public housing in Singapore may be said to have begun with the formal establishment of the Singapore Improvement Trust (SIT) in 1927 by the colonial government to provide low-cost housing in addition to improvement works. The Housing and Development Board (HDB) replaced SIT as the national housing authority in 1960 and is now the sole provider of public housing in Singapore.1

History
In 1918, the colonial government set up a housing commission to review the living conditions in the central area of Singapore.2 Following the recommendation of the housing commission to set up an improvement commission, the SIT was conceived in 1924. However, the body was only constituted in 1927 after the Singapore Improvement Ordinance was passed. The objective of SIT was to “provide for the improvement of the town and island and Singapore”.3 Initially, SIT was not given the authority to build housing for the general populace, except for those left homeless by its improvement schemes. It was only in 1932 that SIT was given more powers to undertake building projects to accommodate the rapidly growing population. One of its earliest projects was the Tiong Bahru housing estate, which is regarded as the first public housing estate of Singapore. However, SIT’s building efforts were far from adequate to meet the needs of the fast-growing population as the housing situation worsened, especially after World War II.4


By the time Singapore attained self-government in 1959, the housing shortage and its related problems, such as overcrowding and squatter colonies, had reached alarming proportions. Public housing for the lower-income groups was thus given top priority and HDB was set up in 1960 to replace SIT.5 Compared with the cramped and unhygienic living conditions in shophouses and squatter areas, flats built by HDB seemed luxurious – they were spacious and equipped with basic services such as electricity, flush toilets and piped water.6 By March 1976, more than half of the local population were living in HDB flats.7

Besides those built by HDB, a limited number of public flats were also constructed between 1968 and 1982 by the Jurong Town Corporation (JTC) in the Jurong and Sembawang industrial estates for low-income groups.  Between 1974 and 1982, the Housing and Urban Development Company (HUDC), which was set up in 1974, constructed housing for middle-income groups. In 1982, HDB took over the management of JTC and HUDC flats and thus became the sole provider of public housing in Singapore.8 As at March 2008, 82 percent of the resident population lived in HDB flats.9

Description
Public housing in Singapore generally comprises high-density, high-rise developments, mostly located in suburban areas.10 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.11 The larger estates are known as “new towns”. Singapore’s first new town, Queenstown, had been initiated by SIT in the 1950s but was completed by HDB. The second new town, Toa Payoh, was the first to be developed entirely by HDB.12 There are presently more than 20 new towns such as Jurong West, Tampines and Woodlands.13


Types of flats
The main categories of public housing are: one-room flats, two-room flats, three-room flats, four-room flats, five-room flats, executive flats (including executive apartments and maisonettes), studio apartments (reserved for Singaporeans who are at least 55 years old) and HUDC flats. Studio apartments and one- and two-room flats are the smallest with floor areas of less than 50 sq m, while five-room, executive and HUDC flats are the largest with floor areas exceeding 100 sq m. The size and layout of new flats are guided by standard design plans, with some degree of variation.14

The standard design plans for new flats have been updated over the years to cater to the changing expectations and preferences of home buyers. Over the years, more flat types have been introduced to cater to the different needs of people, such as elderly-friendly studio apartments, which were introduced in 1997.15

The emphasis of building programmes slowly shifted from meeting the population’s basic need for proper shelter to quality that extends beyond the design of the flats to the surrounding living environment. This is evidenced by efforts to improve the landscape architecture, enhance the visual identity of housing estates and provide better amenities for the residents. Furthermore, upgrading works are carried out under various estate renewal programmes to prevent physical decay and obsolescence and to enhance the residents’ living environment.16

Homeownership
Most public flats are sold units, a result of the government’s conscious effort to build a nation of homeowners in the belief that homeownership would give Singaporeans a bigger stake in their country.17 By March 2008, 95 percent of public flats were owner-occupied.18 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 some conditions. These incentives are available for purchases of both new and resale flats. In addition, new flats offered directly by HDB are sold at subsidised prices. However, only those who meet HDB’s eligibility criteria are allowed to buy public flats, including new units sold by private developers (under HDB’s Design, Build and Sell Scheme, or DBSS) and resale flats.19

Tool to achieve social and political objectives
Through the application of eligibility conditions, public housing has been used to support certain government policies. Before 1991, for instance, singles were not allowed to buy HDB flats on their own, in line with the government’s pro-family and pro-marriage stance.20 However, the rule was gradually relaxed, initially giving singles access to three-room or smaller resale flats in certain areas, and later to such flats in any location. Now, single Singaporeans who are 35 years old or older can purchase resale flats of any size in any location on their own.21 Another example is the maximum proportion set for the ethnic composition in each HDB block and in each HDB neighbourhood. Known as the Ethnic Integration Policy, the scheme aims to promote ethnic integration and harmony. HDB will not approve the sale of a new or resale flat to a particular ethnic group if the sale would result in exceeding the ethnic quota of the block of flat.22


Public housing services have also been linked to support for the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP). This is demonstrated in the PAP’s use of estate upgrading as an incentive to pull in votes during past elections. In July 2009, however, the government announced that the two opposition wards then – Potong Pasir and Hougang – would be included in HDB’s lift upgrading programme earlier than expected, prompting some to suggest that PAP was finally depoliticising the national upgrading programme.23



Author

Valerie Chew



References
1. Tan, A. H. H., & Phang, S.-Y. (1991). The Singapore experience in public housing. Singapore: Times Academic Press, pp. 11, 13. (Call no.: RSING 363.585095957 TAN); Dale, O. J. (1999). Urban planning in Singapore: The transformation of a city. Shah Alam, Malaysia: Oxford University Press, p. 73. (Call no.: RSING 307.1216 DAL); Tai, C.-L. (1988). Housing policy and high-rise living: A study of Singapore’s public housing. Singapore: Chopmen Publishers, p. 43. (Call no.: RSING 307.336095957 TAI)
2. Legislative Council. (1918, October 15). The Straits Times, p. 10; Municipal commission. (1918, June 1). The Straits Times, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
3. Untitled. (1920, May 22). The Straits Times, p. 8; The Improvement Trust. (1927, June 28). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Yeh, S. H. K. (Ed.). (1975). Public housing in Singapore: A multi-disciplinary study. Singapore: Singapore University Press, p. 3. (Call no.: RSING 363.5095957 PUB)
4. Yeh, S. H. K. (Ed.). (1975). Public housing in Singapore: A multi-disciplinary study. Singapore: Singapore University Press, pp. 4–5. (Call no.: RSING 363.5095957 PUB); Tai, C.-L. (1988). Housing policy and high-rise living: A study of Singapore’s public housing. Singapore: Chopmen Publishers, p. 43. (Call no.: RSING 307.336095957 TAI)
5. Yeh, S. H. K. (Ed.). (1975). Public housing in Singapore: A multi-disciplinary study. Singapore: Singapore University Press, pp. 5–6. (Call no.: RSING 363.5095957 PUB); Tai, C.-L. (1988). Housing policy and high-rise living: A study of Singapore’s public housing. Singapore: Chopmen Publishers, p. 43. (Call no.: RSING 307.336095957 TAI)
6. Yeh, S. H. K. (Ed.). (1975). Public housing in Singapore: A multi-disciplinary study. Singapore: Singapore University Press, p. 24. (Call no.: RSING 363.5095957 PUB); Fernandez, W. (2011). Our homes: 50 years of housing a nation. Singapore: Straits Times Press, p. 53. (Call no.: RSING 363.585095957 FER)
7. Singapore. Housing and Development Board. (1976). Annual report 1975/76. Singapore: Author, [n.p.]. (Call no.: RCLOS 711.4095957 SIN-[AR])
8. Tan, A. H. H., & Phang, S.-Y. (1991). The Singapore experience in public housing. Singapore: Times Academic Press, p. 13. (Call no.: RSING 363.585095957 TAN); Salma Khalik. (1982, March 2). Middle income housing now under HDB. The Business Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
9. Housing and Development Board. (2008). HDB annual report 2007/2008. Singapore: Housing and Development Board, p. 58. (Call no.: RCLOS 711.4095957 SIN-[AR])
10. Wong, A. K., & Yeh, S. H. K. (Eds.). (1985). Housing a nation: 25 years of public housing in Singapore. Singapore: Maruzen Asia, pp. 8–10. (Call no.: RSING 363.5095957 HOU)
11. Chua, B. H. (1988). Public housing policies compared: US, socialist countries and Singapore. Singapore: Department of Sociology, National University of Singapore, p. 24. (Call no.: RSING 363.58 CHU)
12. Wong, A. K., & Yeh, S. H. K. (Eds.). (1985). Housing a nation: 25 years of public housing in Singapore. Singapore: Maruzen Asia, pp. 92–93. (Call no.: RSING 363.5095957 HOU)
13. Housing and Development Board. (2015, October 1). HDB towns, your home. Retrieved 2016, October 3 from Housing and Development Board website: http://www.hdb.gov.sg/cs/infoweb/about-us/history/hdb-towns-your-home
14. Wong, A. K., & Yeh, S. H. K. (Eds.). (1985). Housing a nation: 25 years of public housing in Singapore. Singapore: Maruzen Asia, pp. 57, 65. (Call no.: RSING 363.5095957 HOU); Ministry of National Development. (1997, November 5). Studio apartments for elderly lessees of HDB flats [Press release]. Retrieved from National of Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline
15. Wong, A. K., & Yeh, S. H. K. (Eds.). (1985). Housing a nation: 25 years of public housing in Singapore. Singapore: Maruzen Asia, pp. 59–61, 65, 96. (Call no.: RSING 363.5095957 HOU); Ministry of National Development. (1997, November 5). Studio apartments for elderly lessees of HDB flats [Press release]. Retrieved from National of Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline; Housing and Development Board. (2015, October 26). Public housing – A Singapore icon: Estate renewal. Retrieved 2016, December 1 from Housing and Development Board website: http://www.hdb.gov.sg/cs/infoweb/about-us/our-role/public-housing--a-singapore-icon
16. Ministry of National Development. (n.d.). Building homes – Shaping communities, pp. 20–21. Retrieved 2016, October 3 from Ministry of National Development website: http://www.mnd.gov.sg/MNDAPPImages/About%20Us/Building%20Homes%20-%20Shaping%20Communities.pdf; Housing and Development Board. (2015, October 26). Public housing – A Singapore icon: Estate renewal. Retrieved 2016, October 3 from Housing and Development Board website: http://www.hdb.gov.sg/cs/infoweb/about-us/our-role/public-housing--a-singapore-icon; Dale, O. J. (1999). Urban planning in Singapore: The transformation of a city. Shah Alam, Malaysia: Oxford University Press, p. 93. (Call no.: RSING 307.1216 DAL)
17. Fernandez, W. (2011). Our homes: 50 years of housing a nation. Singapore: Straits Times Press, p. 211. (Call no.: RSING 363.585095957 FER); Ministry of National Development. (n.d.). Building homes – Shaping communities, pp. 20–21. Retrieved 2016, December 1 from Ministry of National Development website: http://www.mnd.gov.sg/MNDAPPImages/About%20Us/Building%20Homes%20-%20Shaping%20Communities.pdf; Housing and Development Board. (2015, October 26). Public housing – A Singapore icon: Estate renewal. Retrieved 2016, October 3 from Housing and Development Board website: http://www.hdb.gov.sg/cs/infoweb/about-us/our-role/public-housing--a-singapore-icon
18. Ministry of National Development. (n.d.). Building homes – Shaping communities, p. 16. Retrieved 2016, October 3 from Ministry of National Development website: http://www.mnd.gov.sg/MNDAPPImages/About%20Us/Building%20Homes%20-%20Shaping%20Communities.pdf; Housing and Development Board. (2008). HDB annual report 2007/2008. Singapore: Housing and Development Board, p. 5. (Call no.: RCLOS 711.4095957 SIN-[AR])
19. Fernandez, W. (2011). Our homes: 50 years of housing a nation. Singapore: Straits Times Press, pp. 196–197, 199. (Call no.: RSING 363.585095957 FER); Housing and Development Board. (2015, October 26). Public Housing – A Singapore Icon: Estate renewal. Retrieved 2016, October 3 from Housing and Development website: http://www.hdb.gov.sg/cs/infoweb/about-us/our-role/public-housing--a-singapore-icon; Housing and Development Board. (2016). Residential: Eligibility. Retrieved 2016, December 1 from Housing and Development website: http://www.hdb.gov.sg/cs/infoweb/residential/buying-a-flat/new/eligibility
20. Koh, E. (1991, October 18). Singles above 35 may buy HDB flats on their own. The Business Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Phang, S.-Y. (2007). The Singapore model of housing and the welfare state. In R. Groves, A. Murie & C. Watson (Eds), Housing and the new welfare state: Perspectives from East Asia and Europe [Ebook] (pp. 15–44). Abingdon, UK: Routledge, pp. 23, 34. Retrieved from NLB OneSearch website: http://search.nlb.gov.sg/; Wong, A. K., & Yeh, S. H. K. (Eds.). (1985). Housing a nation: 25 years of public housing in Singapore. Singapore: Maruzen Asia, p. 252. (Call no.: RSING 363.5095957 HOU)
21. Housing and Development Board. (2015, December 7). Single Singapore citizen scheme. Retrieved 2016, August 25 from Housing and Development Board website: http://www.hdb.gov.sg/cs/infoweb/residential/buying-a-flat/resale/single-singapore-citizen-scheme-or-joint-singles-scheme
22. Housing and Development Board. (2015, October 1). Ethnic Integration Policy and SPR quota. Retrieved 2016, August 25 from Housing and Development Board website: http://www.hdb.gov.sg/cs/infoweb/residential/buying-a-flat/resale/ethnic-integration-policy-and-spr-quota
23. Kor, K. B., Low, A., & Cai, H. X. (2009, July 18). Lift upgrading no more a dangled carrots? The Straits Times, p. 35. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Dale, O. J. (1999). Urban planning in Singapore: The transformation of a city. Shah Alam, Malaysia: Oxford University Press, p. 95. (Call no.: RSING 307.1216 DAL)



Further resources
Ooi, G. L. (2004). Future of space: Planning, space and the city. Singapore: Eastern University Press.

(Call no.: RSING 307.1216095957 OOI)

Singapore Improvement. (1925, August 11). The Straits Times, p. 11. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

The town planner departs. (1924, May 10). Malayan Saturday Post, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.



The information in this article is valid as at 2010 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.

 

Subject
Public housing--Singapore
Politics and Government
Law and government>>National development>>Housing development
Architecture and Landscape>>Building Types>>Residential Buildings
Residential buildings