Housing and Development Board
by Chew, Valerie
The Housing and Development Board (HDB) is the national public housing authority of Singapore. It was formed in February 1960, shortly after Singapore attained self-government, to alleviate the severe housing shortage at the time.1 Through the years, the emphasis of its housing programmes has shifted from quantity of housing to quality of life. Since 1985, its flats have been housing over 80 percent of Singapore’s resident population. The HDB is currently headquartered at the HDB Hub in Toa Payoh.2
HDB succeeded the Singapore Improvement Trust with the task of providing adequate housing for the people.3 The trust was established in 1927 by the colonial government and charged with responsibilities such as carrying out improvement works, condemning insanitary buildings and rehousing people rendered homeless as a result of improvement works. It began building flats from the 1930s onwards4 after the colonial government vested it with the powers, albeit limited, to do so in 1930.5 By the time HDB replaced the Improvement Trust in 1960, the housing problem had worsened significantly as its building programmes had fallen far short of what was required to keep pace with the fast-growing population.6
The first step towards the formation of HDB was taken in August 1958 with the introduction of the Housing and Development Bill and the Planning Bill. The bills were passed by the Legislative Council in January 1959 and came into effect on 1 February 1960, whereupon the HDB was established as Singapore’s housing authority, with the dissolution of the Singapore Improvement Trust on 31 January. Its primary function was to build and manage housing units for the low-income groups, and it had to produce the maximum output in the minimum time and at the lowest possible cost.7
In 1965, the HDB completed its first Five-Year Building Programme with total of 54,430 units built since its inauguration.8 The following year, HDB declared that it had resolved the housing problem.9 By the end of 1970, 36 percent of the total population was living in HDB flats. As a result of HDB’s sustained effort, by 1989 more than 80 percent of Singapore’s resident population was living in its flats.10
Since its inception, HDB’s main task has been to build and manage public housing. Its comprehensive housing programmes have involved the provision of not only residential units but also the supporting facilities in the housing estates such as kindergartens, community halls, homes for the aged and recreational grounds.11 Over the years, the nature of its role as the provider of public housing in Singapore has changed and it has been evolving constantly to adapt to the changing needs and expectations of the population. In the beginning, the focus was on the mass production of affordable, standardised housing for the low-income groups. They have introduced new schemes to suit not only nuclear families, but also singles, the elderly, and multigenerational families.12
Sale of flats
Initially, the HDB built flats only for rental, but in 1964 it began selling flats under a homeownership scheme. In 1968, the government implemented another scheme that allowed Central Provident Fund (CPF) members to use the funds in their CPF accounts to finance their purchase of HDB flats instead of relying solely on their take-home pay. Together, the two schemes have steadily raised the HDB homeownership rate, which stands at 92% as at 2015.13 To help married couples purchase their first HDB flat, a housing grant has been given since 1994 to subsidise their purchase of a flat from the resale market, with those who choose to live near their parents enjoying a higher quantum.14
HDB has also been easing its eligibility conditions to give more people a chance at homeownership. For example, the citizenship criterion was relaxed in 1989 to allow Singapore permanent residents to own HDB flats. One of the most significant changes is the revision of the policy on singles. In 1991, it was announced that single citizens who were at least 35 years old could purchase HDB flats on their own, though they were limited to only three-room or smaller flats outside the central area. After two revisions to the scheme in 2001 and 2004, eligible singles may now purchase flats of any type in any location.15
In 2001, HDB launched the build-to-order (BTO) system of selling new flats in non-mature estates as an alternative to the registration for flats system (RFS) which had left it with a large stock of unsold flats. Under the BTO system, applications are invited for the flats to be built on the proposed sites and construction only begins if most of the units are booked. This system thus allows HDB to increase or reduce its supply of flats according to demand.16 RFS was suspended in 2002 and the BTO system is now the main mode of sale for new flats.17
Types of flats
During its first decade of operation, HDB built only one- to four-room flats. Five-room flats were then introduced in the 1970s, followed by executive apartments and maisonettes in the 1980s in response to the demand for bigger flats. Periodically, HDB has also made improvements to each flat type in terms of size and design.18 In 1997, to cater to the needs of Singapore’s ageing population, the board unveiled a special range of flats known as studio apartments. Smaller than three-room flats, these homes are partially furnished and fitted with elderly-friendly features such as emergency pull cords linked to an alert system for summoning help.19 Adding to the variety of public housing is the Design, Build and Sell Scheme (DBSS) introduced in 2005. Under DBSS, designated sites are sold to private developers, who are then responsible for designing, building and selling the flats.20
An intermediate category of housing to bridge the gap between HDB flats and private condominiums was introduced in 1995. Known as executive condominiums, these units offer the standard of private condominium living but at lower prices, even though they are built and sold by private developers. However, buyers have to meet eligibility criteria similar to those applicable to purchases of HDB flats. In addition, the reselling of such units is subject to certain restrictions, which are lifted only after a minimum occupation period of 10 years.21
Estate Renewal Strategy
Since the 1990s, HDB has adopted the Estate Renewal Strategy, which consists of various upgrading programmes aimed at improving the living environment of its residents. The Main Upgrading Programme was the launched in 1990. Under this scheme, improvement works are carried out within the flat and at the block and precinct levels. Five years later, HDB launched the Selective En-bloc Redevelopment Scheme, which involves the demolition of entire blocks for redevelopment. Smaller-scale upgrading programmes have also been developed to benefit more residents. These include the Home Improvement Programme launched in 2007 that targets common maintenance problems within the flat such as spalling concrete and ceiling leaks.22
1. Tan, A. H. H., & Phang, S.-Y. (1992). The Singapore experience in public housing. Singapore: Times Academic Press, p. 11. (Call no.: RSING 363.585095957 TAN)
2. Wong, A. K., & Yeh, S. H. K. (Eds.). (1985). Housing a nation: 25 years of public housing in Singapore. Singapore: Maruzen Asia for HDB, p. 3. (Call no.: RSING 363.5095957 HOU)
3. Housing and Development Board. (1960–63). Annual report of the Housing and Development Board. Singapore: Housing and Development Board, pp. 1–5. (Call no.: RSING 711.4095957 SIN-[AR])
4. Fraser, J. M. (1948). The work of the Singapore Improvement Trust 1927–1947. Singapore: Authority of Singapore Improvement Trust, pp. 5–7, 10. (Call no.: RCLOS 711.4095951 SIN-[RFL])
5. Straits Settlements. (1930). Ordinances enacted by the governor of the Straits Settlements with the advice and consent of the Legislative Council thereof in the year 1930. An ordinance to amend the Singapore Improvement Ordinance 1927 (No. 13 of 1930). Singapore: [s.n.], p. 52. (Call no. RCLOS 348.5957 SGGAS-[RFL]); Report of the Housing Committee, Singapore, 1947. (1948). Singapore: [s.n.], p. 9. Available via PublicationSG.
6. Housing and Development Board. (1960–63). Annual report of the Housing and Development Board. Singapore: Housing and Development Board, pp. 1–5. (Call no.: RSING 711.4095957 SIN-[AR])
7. Housing and Development Board. (1960–63). Annual report of the Housing and Development Board. Singapore: Housing and Development Board, p. 13. (Call no.: RSING 711.4095957 SIN-[AR])
8. Housing and Development Board. (1965). Annual report of the Housing and Development Board. Singapore: HDB, p. 10. (Call no.: RSING 711.4095957 SIN-[AR])
9. Men who served S’pore well get their awards. (1963, March 17). The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
10. Tan, H. H., & Phang, S. Y. (1992). The Singapore experience in public housing. Singapore: Times Academic Press, p. 11. (Call no.: RSING 363.585095957 TAN)
11. Housing and Development Board. (1978–79). Annual report of the Housing and Development Board. Singapore: Housing and Development Board, p. 7. (Call no.: RSING 711.4095957 SIN-[AR])
12. Housing and Development Board. (2015, October 26). Public housing – A Singapore icon. Retrieved 2016, March 29 from HDB website: http://www.hdb.gov.sg/cs/infoweb/about-us/our-role/public-housing--a-singapore-icon
13. Wong, A. K., & Yeh, S. H. K. (Eds.). (1985). Housing a nation: 25 years of public housing in Singapore. Singapore: Maruzen Asia for HDB, p.12. (Call no.: RSING 363.5095957 HOU); Singapore Department of Statistics. (2016, January 12). Resident households by tenancy, annual. Retrieved 2016, May 27 from Department of Statistics website: http://www.tablebuilder.singstat.gov.sg/publicfacing/createDataTable.action?refId=851
14. Housing and Development Board. (2015, October 26). Public housing – A Singapore icon. Retrieved 2016, March 29 from HDB website: http://www.hdb.gov.sg/cs/infoweb/about-us/our-role/public-housing--a-singapore-icon
15. Housing and Development Board. (2015, October 26). Public housing – A Singapore icon. Retrieved 2016, March 29 from HDB website: http://www.hdb.gov.sg/cs/infoweb/about-us/our-role/public-housing--a-singapore-icon
16. Get ready for the where-when-what flats. (2001, March 22). Today, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
17. HDB scraps queue system for its flats. (2002, May 19). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
18. Wong, A. K., & Yeh, S. H. K. (Eds.). (1985). Housing a nation: 25 years of public housing in Singapore. Singapore: Maruzen Asia for HDB, pp. 58–66. (Call no.: RSING 363.5095957 HOU)
19. Yap, C. B. (2007, April). Homes for a nation – Public housing in Singapore. Ethos, 2. Retrieved 2016, March 30 from Civil Service College website: https://www.cscollege.gov.sg/Knowledge/ethos/Issue%202%20Apr%202007/Pages/Homes-for-a-Nation-Public-Housing-in-Singapore.aspx
20. Milestones. (2007, May 24). The Business Times, p. 50. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
21. Executive condos bridge gap between public, private housing. (1996, June 38). The Straits Times, p. 38. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
22. Housing and Development Board. (2015, October 26). Public housing – A Singapore icon. Retrieved 2016, March 31 from Housing and Development Board website: http://www.hdb.gov.sg/cs/infoweb/about-us/our-role/public-housing--a-singapore-icon
The information in this article is valid as at 2009 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.
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