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Commentary: An over-emphasis on home ownership can come at a cost to society. Time for a review of public housing policy

6 2 998

SINGAPORE: Singapore is frequently lauded when it comes to housing policy.

Its home ownership rate of more than 90 per cent of the population is one of the highest in the world and is much higher than the home ownership rates in developed countries.

Among developed urban centres like Seoul, Tokyo or Hong Kong, Singaporeans occupy a large per square foot per person of living space.

Our public housing programme is well known for its quality of construction and design, including complementary amenities such as community centres, playgrounds, shops, sport facilities and so on.

While in most countries, public housing is meant for low-income households, in Singapore, it provides options for nearly all socio-economic classes.

Potential buyers look at models of a new public housing estate to be constructed in Singapore. (File photo: Reuters/Edgar Su)


In the 1950s, most of Singapore was living in slum-like, overcrowded conditions, with poor sanitation, safety standards and construction quality. Many lived in squatter settlements of attap, wood and zinc.

Dysentery, tuberculosis, malaria and dengue thrived in these unsanitary and crowded living conditions. The fertility rate of the time was more than five children per woman versus the roughly one child per woman now, exacerbating the misery.

When the People’s Action Party came to power in 1959, it made housing a high priority. Apart from the aforementioned reasons, the Government wanted to build a home-owning society where people felt they had a stake in the country and would work hard to contribute to society.

The social stability it engendered also turned out to be a positive in attracting many multinationals to set up shop in Singapore, improving the economy of Singapore and the lives of people.

The Housing Development Board (HDB) was set up in 1960. Within 10 years, the HDB housed 35 per cent of the population, and by the 1980s, 85 per cent of the population.

Housing quality also improved over the decades and by this century, many of the newer flats look little different physically from private apartments.


By the late 1980s, housing........

© Channel NewsAsia