HDB, Homeownership and Singapore as Home

MM Lee Kuan Yew spelled out the role of public housing in making Singaporeans grow roots in Singapore. However, the public housing of the 60s and 70s to tie people down cannot keep up with the growing aspirations of today’s Singaporeans who want better and more bourgeois housing.

Back then, simple solid homes were enough. They were spartan to the myopic extent that there were no lifts built on every floor. Housing was arguably cheaper then, excluding inflation over the years. DBSS is the top of the line public housing now, and it comes with top of the line pricing in the public housing context. Over the years, HDB flats are better built and designed for the lower to middle income bands. There is deliberate policy to prevent public housing from becoming some council housing in the West where public housing is only for the underclass. This is also possibly an emerging trend in some countries like Japan where public housing is more and more for the middle income and this inadvertently affects its pricing.

For the new HDB home buyer, it is more expensive to buy a 4BR and it takes people longer to own their homes as the mortgage period is up to 30 years, and not by calculated financial choice. This is where public housing policy failed in recent years according to the expectations of the new HDB owners, never mind what the policy-makers think.

The HDB house is not totally a home but also a lead weight around the neck of its owners especially since the HDB gives a market subsidy, not cost subsidy, on its homes built for Singaporeans. Something that does not sit easily with Singaporeans who are increasingly priced out even when finding their first new public housing flat. They are the ones the government have to look out for if the government wants its rootedness policy is to be more effective. Of course unless these new aspiring homeowners want to buy a resale HDB flat in a centralised location rather than a new flat in an outer suburb. Then they should be at the mercy of the market.

Home ownership a ‘fundamental policy’: MM
04:46 AM Mar 23, 2011

SINGAPORE – When he took office in 1959, then-Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew noted homes in fast-growing Asian cities comprised of small rooms which came with high rentals. “Therefore, they decorated their cars as if they were their homes. But these additions have no lasting value,” he said.

With that in mind, Mr Lee and the Government embarked on making Singapore a home-owning society and home ownership a fundamental policy. By the 1980s – and in “a short time” – the Government had housed 85 per cent of the population.

“If we had not helped our citizens to own their homes, Singapore would be very different,” said Mr Lee, who is now Minister Mentor. “Society would not be so stable. Our lives would have been worse off. They have valuable assets in their homes to protect against riots and civil commotion.”

Mr Lee made these remarks on home ownership – which is expected to dominate the hustings during the coming elections – during Saturday’s launch of the Tanjong Pagar Town Council’s five-year masterplan and ABC Waters at Alexandra Canal. The full speech was made available yesterday.

Mr Lee reiterated that home ownership gives every Singaporean “a sense of ownership”.

“Our families own their homes and are rooted to Singapore … Moreover, with National Service, every family must have a stake in a property to defend,” he added.

As Singaporeans take great pride in their homes, Mr Lee said, “it is crucial to prevent our estates from becoming urban slums”.

“As Singapore prospers, the value of their HDB homes also appreciate. Home ownership motivates Singaporeans to work hard and to aspire for a better future for their family, to upgrade to better and bigger flats,” he added.

While the Government has met Singaporeans’ basic needs, it has to “meet the rising aspirations” too, said Mr Lee, as he traced the “HDB story” which reflects Singaporeans’ social mobility.

Mr Lee noted that as younger families began moving out of the older HDB towns, for newer and more modern flats in the late 1980s, the Government introduced the HDB Upgrading Programme – providing new playgrounds, covered linkways, landscaped gardens and open spaces for residents to mingle.

In 1995, the HDB launched the Selective En Bloc Redevelopment Scheme, or SERS, to free up land in the older estates, and to replace them with higher-quality, higher-density flats.

In 2001, with an ageing population, the Government implemented the Lift Upgrading Programme.

“We are near the final phase of its completion, and works will complete by 2014,” Mr Lee noted.

The Minister Mentor stressed public housing cannot be allowed to become obsolete. Which is why HDB embarked in 2007 on its plan to rejuvenate the housing estates – starting with the pilot towns and estates in Punggol, Yishun and Dawson. Towns in Hougang, East Coast and the Jurong Lake areas will soon follow.

By next year, the Government will be laying out the next generation nationwide broadband network “so that everybody will have easy access to the computer, to all information that they will require, and they can video-conference with each other and with families abroad”, said Mr Lee.

But Mr Lee stressed: “We must build upon the strong foundation laid; continue to work hard, and share the fruits of our nation’s progress.”


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