Singapore / Public Housing & its Social Objectives

While the emphasis of the early public housing projects by the Housing and Development Board (HDB) was on meeting the population’s basic need for proper shelter and social construction through flat design and arrangement, the emphasis in later and today’s projects is on the quality that extends beyond the design of the flats to the surrounding living environment. This can be seen through efforts to bring in or improve landscape architecture and enhance the visual identity of housing estates in new towns (such as in Toa Payoh).

This is part of the 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”[1], meaning that ownership of flats would enhance citizens’ commitment to the country as having assets in the country will allow direct involvement of the citizens. They will also be more willing to bond and interact with one another, forming a stable society. The government promote the ownership scheme 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. 82% of the total population now lives in public housing [2], not because of poverty or low living standards but for its good quality.

Through the application of eligibility conditions, public housing has been used explicitly to support certain government social policies. One example would be the pro-family and pro-marriage stance of the government, in which before 1991, singles were not allowed to buy HDB flats on their own. However the rule was gradually relaxed, initially giving singles access to three-room or smaller resale flats, and now singles aged at least 35 years old can purchase resale flats of any size on their own.[3]

Another example would be the Ethnic Integration Policy: maximum proportions are set for the various ethnic groups in each HDB block and in each HDB neighbourhood.[4] To prevent the formation of racial enclaves and promote ethnic integration, HDB will not approve the sale of a new or resale flat to a particular ethnic group if it would lead to that ethnic group’s limit being exceeded.

References:

1. Clancey, G. Ryan Bishop, John Phillips, and Wei-Wei Yeo, eds. (2004) Beyond Description: Singapore, Space, Historicity – Towards a Spatial History of Emergency: Notes from Singapore. New York: Routledge.

2. Housing and Development Board. (2012/2013). HDB annual report 2012/2013: Key statistics. Singapore: Housing and Development Board, p. 7. Retrieved June 12, 2014, from HDB InfoWEB: http://www10.hdb.gov.sg/eBook/AR2013/keystatistics.html

3. Housing and Development Board. (2009). Single Singapore citizen scheme. Retrieved October 12, 2009, from http://www.hdb.gov.sg/fi10/fi10201p.nsf/WPDis/Buying%20A%20Resale%20FlatEligibility%20Scheme%20-%20Single%20Singapore%20Citizen%20Scheme?OpenDocument

4. Housing and Development Board. (2009). Ethnic group eligibility of buyers. Retrieved October 12, 2009, from http://www.hdb.gov.sg/fi10/fi10201p.nsf/WPDis/Buying%20A%20Resale%20FlatEthnic%20Group%20Eligibility%20of%20Buyers?OpenDocument