Singapore / SIT vs. HDB

The Singapore Improvement Trust was a body initiated and subsidized by the British government in 1927 with the express task of “the improvement of the sanitary condition of Singapore”². Ordinance 10 of 1927 titled ‘An Ordinance to Improve the Town and Island of Singapore’ upgraded the SIT from being merely a department of the government to an independent corporate body. Similar institutions were found in other Crown colonies such as the Dhaka Improvement Trust in Bangladesh. As such its agenda could hardly be described as being anti-imperialist; instead, these agencies were preoccupied with the colonial project to civilize the Orient. Despite this, progress was slow and by 1960 the acute housing shortage had not been rectified and slums were still prevalent.

In contrast, the Housing and Development Board which succeeded it in 1960 was incorporated as a government body. The creation of the HDB just five years before independence indicates the prioritization of housing by the nationalist PAP government, which itself had come to power the previous year in the elections for Singapore’s first Legislative Assembly. This marks the beginning of the notion that housing played a key role in the creation of a successful Singaporean state, for what nation could be called a success if its people did not have a roof over their heads. The fast pace and high density of its housing schemes (“From 1960 to 1963, HDB completed 30,906 dwelling units”³) indicate the sense of urgency felt by the government, whereas the slow pace of SIT developments perhaps shows that the colonial body was less concerned with the lack of adequate housing in this far flung tropical island. Its replacement may have occurred not only due to its failure to mitigate the housing problem, but also because it was colonial residue – a new Housing and Development Board would be much more responsive to the needs of the emerging nation.



1. Attorney General’s Chamber, (1960). Housing and Development Act (Chapter 129). Singapore, p.Part III.

2. House of Commons Debate 20 December 1928 vol 223 c3268W [online]
Available at: [Accessed 24 Dec. 2014]

3. National Library Board, S. (2014). Housing and Development Board (HDB) | Infopedia. [online] Available at: [Accessed 24 Dec. 2014].

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