Public housing in Singapore
Public housing in Singapore is subsidised, built and managed by the Government of Singapore. Starting in the 1930s, the country's first public housing was built by the Singapore Improvement Trust (SIT) in a similar fashion to contemporaneous British public housing projects, and housing for the resettlement of squatters was built from the late 1950s. In the 1960s, under the SIT's successor the Housing and Development Board (HDB), public housing consisting of small units with basic amenities was constructed as quickly and cheaply as possible at high densities, and was used for resettlement schemes. From the late 1960s, housing programmes focused more on quality, public housing was built in new towns, and a scheme allowing residents to own their flats was introduced. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, more public housing options were provided for the middle class and efforts to increase community cohesion within housing estates were made. From the 1990s, the government began portraying public housing as an asset, introducing large-scale upgrading schemes and loosening regulations on the resale of public housing while additional housing programmes for the sandwich classes and elderly residents were introduced. Rising housing prices led to public housing being seen as an investment from the 2000s, and new technologies and eco-friendly features were incorporated into housing estates.
In the early 2020s, Singapore's public housing is located in new towns, in communities that are intended to be self-contained, with services nearby housing blocks, and is either owned by or rented to residents. Owner-occupied public housing is sold on a 99-year lease and can be sold on the private resale market under certain restrictions. Rental housing consists of smaller units and is mainly meant for lower-income households. Housing grants are provided to lower-income applicants for flat purchases while flats with shorter leases and lease monetisation schemes have been implemented for elderly homeowners. Housing estates are managed and maintained by Town Councils, and older housing estates are improved by the Housing and Development Board under the Estate Renewal Strategy.
Under the Singapore Improvement Trust
The first public housing in Singapore was built in 1936 by the Singapore Improvement Trust (SIT), which began focusing more on public housing provision from the late 1940s. The public housing built by the SIT was similar in terms of density and living space to British public housing projects of the time, and housed nine per cent of Singapore's population by 1959.
The SIT faced multiple issues in its provision of public housing; rents for SIT flats were unaffordable for most of the local population and by 1949, new flats were not being built quickly enough to keep up with demand. By 1958, the SIT was unable to financially sustain its public housing programme and delays in approval of new housing projects slowed construction even further. Consequently, plans to replace the SIT with a new housing authority were drawn up in the late 1950s, and in February 1960, it was replaced with the Housing and Development Board (HDB).
Emergency housing and resettlement schemes
In 1953, the SIT reluctantly started constructing emergency housing for displaced kampong dwellers because the flats it usually built were proving expensive to construct. These houses were poorly received so in 1955, the SIT scaled back its emergency housing construction, only resuming in the late 1950s after fires at Kampong Koo Chye and Kampong Tiong Bahru. The Singapore government took over the fire sites and instructed the SIT to build flats on them. The SIT also envisioned a resettlement plan in Kampong Tiong Bahru after the fire, acquiring additional land for emergency flats and renting out the flats to the kampong dwellers. These schemes were also poorly received by the displaced kampong residents.
When the HDB was formed in 1960, it announced a five-year housing plan with high aspirations and continued the SIT's emergency housing programme from November 1960, adopting a strategy of building one-room flats for resettlement schemes. In May 1961, in the aftermath of a subsequent fire in Bukit Ho Swee, the government immediately took over the fire site, set aside most of the emergency flats in Kampong Tiong Bahru for the rehousing of displaced kampong dwellers, and developed a housing estate on the site of the kampong that was completed between 1963 and 1965. The Bukit Ho Swee estate was used to rehouse other squatters displaced by fires or development schemes, paving the way for further urban renewal and resettlement schemes in the Central Area. By 1965, more than 50,000 flats had been constructed and 23% of Singapore’s population lived in public housing.
In the 1960s, the HDB's housing was intended to be built as quickly and cheaply as possible, and consisted mainly of one- and two-room flats. These were built at high densities to make the most of the limited land available for public housing. Housing estates built during this period had limited amenities; they were built at the edge of the Central Area, whose facilities and services residents relied on.
Through the development of public housing, the government attempted to change the behaviour of the kampong residents with prohibitions on modifying or subletting flats, and to have more control over them. The government intended to build harmony between Singapore's racial groups; the new housing estates had no racial distinctions, unlike the settlements that preceded them. Nevertheless, the intended residents resisted the resettlement schemes and many residents loathed the one-room emergency flats. The government attempted to provide housing to all people and organisations affected by the schemes. The HDB shifted away from constructing one-room flats from the late 1960s.
Development of new towns
In 1964, a home ownership scheme was introduced but it was poorly received at first because most public housing residents were unable to afford the flats. Applicants could use their Central Provident Fund (CPF) contributions to pay for their flats from 1968, and by 1984, 62 percent of flats were owned.
The HDB started constructing its first new town in 1965; it was located about 5–8 km (3.1–5.0 mi) from the city centre, and had a town centre with amenities and industrial areas to provide employment to residents. From the late 1960s, the HDB began focusing on the quality of public housing, building larger flats and providing more amenities in housing estates. In addition, the 1966 Land Acquisition Act gave the government broad powers to take over land and made more land available for public housing.
From the 1970s, public housing was constructed further away from the Central Area, more amenities were provided in new towns and flat sizes continued to increase. Owners were allowed to sell their flats on the resale market from 1971, and from the mid-1970s, the designs of public housing developments became more diverse. Flats were built by the Jurong Town Corporation in Jurong and Sembawang between 1968 and 1982, and the Housing and Urban Development Company (HUDC) was set up in 1974 to provide flats for middle-class residents. The HUDC's housing estates had layouts similar to those of private condominiums, and were initially well-received.
In the late 1970s, in an attempt to build a sense of community within housing estates, Residents' Communities and the precinct concept were introduced. Rising construction costs during this period resulted in designs again becoming more uniform and from the early 1980s, housing construction started incorporating more prefabricated sections to reduce costs. The 1980s saw the introduction of larger executive flats while the HDB, which took over the HUDC in 1982, stopped construction of HUDC flats because HUDC prices were approaching those of private property and the middle class was able to purchase HDB flats. In the light of falling demand for smaller flats, those in older housing estates were enlarged while older housing blocks that did not meet the HDB's standards were torn down. Flat modification regulations were relaxed and housing estates were upgraded on an ad hoc basis.
To ensure people of different races were evenly distributed across public housing estates, a limit on Malay residents was introduced for new flats. This proved insufficient to prevent the formation of racial enclaves so in 1989, the limits were extended to all races and also to the resale market.
Upgrading schemes and new housing programmes
From the 1990s, the Singapore government started portraying public housing as an asset and as a useful tool for safeguarding retirement. The government pursued measures for upgrading and "asset enhancement", and loosened restrictions on the public housing resale market. The first of these schemes, a large-scale, S$15 billion upgrading scheme, was announced in 1989. The scheme's aim was intended to make older housing estates more attractive to younger people, and included the creation of differentiated precincts, the provision of more amenities, and upgrades to blocks and flats. Town councils and residents were able to determine the nature and extent of the upgrades to their estates. After a trial on vacant housing blocks and a demonstration phase on selected blocks, the scheme was initiated in 1993.
A less-extensive interim upgrading programme was carried out in newer estates and several town councils carried out their own amenity-upgrading schemes. In 1995, the Selective En bloc Redevelopment Scheme to redevelop selected housing blocks in older estates was introduced. These upgrading schemes were subsequently used for political ends; politicians from the ruling People's Action Party stated estates with higher proportions of votes for the ruling party would be prioritised for upgrading schemes.
Besides the upgrading programmes, additional housing schemes were introduced in the 1990s. These included executive condominiums with similar amenities to private condominiums for the sandwich class, along with Design Plus and Design and Build flats, which had higher-quality fittings and designs, and were designed with feedback from private architects. Design and Build flats were also developed by private architects and building contractors. In 1997, smaller studio apartments that were fitted with elderly-friendly features were introduced. Both public and private housing were built within the same new towns from the 1990s, while from 1995, HUDC estates were privatised, and residents took over the management and ownership of the estates.
The 2000s, 2010s and 2020s
Facing a glut of flats in the housing market, the HDB significantly reduced public housing construction in the early 2000s, and housing was built only when demand was present. The 2000s also saw the incorporation of new technology and eco-friendly features in public housing estates, and their planning was aided by computer simulations. The Design, Build and Sell Scheme, under which the design, construction and sale of flats is handled by private developers, was introduced in 2005.
Additional upgrading programmes, such as the Lift Upgrading and Home Improvement Programmes, regarding direct lift access and flat interiors respectively, were also introduced. Remaking Our Heartland, an extensive development scheme for existing new towns, was introduced in 2007. Public involvement in public-housing provision increased; public consultations on community building in housing estates waqs held in 2006, and residents could give feedback and vote on estate improvements under the Neighbourhood Renewal Programme, which was introduced in 2007. The proportion of permanent residents in public housing also increased and in 2010, a quota on non-Malaysian permanent residents was introduced to prevent the formation of enclaves.
In 2011, the HDB released its Roadmap to Better Living, setting out its plans for housing in the 2010s; it aimed to provide well-connected, unique and sustainable housing estates. More public housing was built in response to increased demand. Attempts to increase residents' involvement in upgrading schemes were made under the poorly received 2013 Building Our Neigbourhood Dreams! programme, under which residents could make suggestions about estate improvements. In the late 2010s and early 2020s, the HDB made further efforts to make housing estates unique and sustainable through the introduction of design guides for each new town and the HDB Green Towns Programme respectively. Community Care Apartments for the elderly with care services for residents were introduced.
Singapore's public housing is constructed within new towns, which are intended to function as independent communities. These new towns are planned on the basis of zoning of land for multiple uses, and house up to 300,000 residents. Each new town is divided into neighbourhoods, which are further subdivided into precincts. Each precinct has about 400 to 800 flats within seven or eight housing blocks. Up to half of the land area in the new towns is set aside for amenities, which are provided on levels ranging from the town centre to the individual housing block and, according to certain guidelines, allowing facilities to be located near residents. Different flat types are spread out across new towns to prevent the concentration of people of a certain income group in any area.
Under the Singapore Improvement Trust, public housing design followed Western architectural styles such as Streamline Moderne and the International Style while incorporating features suited to Singapore's tropical climate. These features are derived from the designs of shophouses, and include five-foot ways, back lanes and spiral staircases.
With an emphasis on quantity, public housing built during the HDB's initial years was very basic and consisted of small housing units that were barely fitted out, and housing estates were provided with few amenities. Quality improvements in public housing started in the late 1960s with the inclusion of landscaping, and more amenities such as open spaces and car parks within housing estates.
As new towns were built farther away from the Central Area from the 1970s, amenities such as retail and industrial areas were provided within the new towns to give them a degree of self-sufficiency. A prototype new-town model dictating the distribution of services was also adopted. Efforts to distinguish neighbourhoods through the use of numbering schemes and paint schemes for housing blocks were made. Access corridors in housing blocks were divided into multiple parts for resident privacy, housing-block designs were made less uniform and more visually appealing, and the ground floors were left empty and unfinished. The HDB intended this "void deck" to be used for communal activities.
From the 1980s, public housing design was intended to give estates a unique character through the variation of block heights within estates and the incorporation of traditional architecture elements into housing block design. Block layouts in new towns were varied with a shift in emphasis away from solar orientation while as part of the precinct concept, groups of blocks were built closer together and open areas were added to foster community interaction.
Public housing design in Singapore began to shift away from a modernist style in the 1990s, with elements from multiple architectural styles added to housing blocks through upgrading schemes. In addition, more effort was made to differentiate housing block designs, while higher quality fittings within housing units were also introduced. Multiple types of services were also provided within integrated developments, while additional community spaces were added in housing estates.
In the 2000s, Singaporean public housing began incorporating technology such as pneumatic waste collection, sensor-activated lights, and eco-friendly and energy-efficient features. Housing estates began to incorporate more greenery while additional recreation facilities such as cycling tracks and natural features were provided. The 2010s brought an increased focus on estate identity and quality of life; historical and natural aspects of the locations of estates were used as inspiration for their design.
Owner-occupied public housing
Most public housing in Singapore is owner-occupied. Under Singapore’s housing ownership programme, housing units are sold on a 99-year leasehold to applicants who meet certain income, citizenship and property ownership requirements. The estate’s land and common areas continue to be owned by the government. As of 2022[update], new owner-occupied flats are sold under the Build-To-Order and Sale of Balance Flats programmes.  Executive condominiums, although considered private housing and constructed and sold by private developers, have similar leases and requirements to owner-occupied public housing. For those in the lower-income groups, grants are available from the government to help them pay for their flat purchase. These grants are adjusted based on household income.
While the SIT allocated public housing using a points system from 1947, allocation in the HDB’s initial years used a ballot system, under which applicants could state their preferred flat type and general location, and reject up to two ballots. People who were displaced by resettlement schemes were given priority. Subsequently, applicants were able to select from flat types and areas in which flats were available. In the early 2000s, in light of increasing numbers of unsold flats, the HDB suspended its earlier flat allocation system, switching to the Build-To-Order programme, in which flats are only built when demand is present.
From the late 1990s, in light of the increasing number of elderly homeowners, schemes to enable them to monetise their flats, starting with reverse mortgages, were put into place. These schemes were poorly received and were withdrawn. In 2009, the HDB introduced the Lease Buyback Scheme, under which the HDB buys a proportion of the housing unit’s lease at current resale prices. Additional schemes, such as the Silver Housing Bonus, under which the homeowner moves to a smaller flat, and the two-room Flexi scheme consisting of smaller flats with shorter leases, were introduced.
Resale public housing
Owner-occupied public housing can be sold in a resale market, subject to restrictions. The government does not regulate prices within the resale market.
Initially, owners were only able to sell their housing units back to the HDB but after 1971, the sale of flats on the private market was allowed. After that, sellers on the private market could only sell flats to buyers who satisfied the requirements for purchasing new flats. Sellers were required to have lived in their flats for a minimum time, and were prevented from applying for new flats for a certain time, which was known as the debarment period. In 1978, the restriction on new flat purchase was replaced by a resale levy.
Resale restrictions were loosened in the late 1980s; income limits were removed, and permanent residents and property owners were allowed to purchase resale flats in 1989. In 1991, the resale market was opened to unmarried people older than 35. CPF housing grants for the resale market were introduced in 1994. These measures led to a rapid rise in resale prices by the mid-1990s; in response, the HDB introduced additional taxes and restrictions 
Increasing housing prices and government statements regarding public housing as assets that can be enhanced resulted in public housing being perceived as an investment. In the late 200s, with the trend of increasing housing prices, the government introduced measures such as additional taxes and restrictions to reduce investment demand for housin., The government also tried not to dissuade the use of public housing as an investment. Rising resale prices for public housing in prime areas led to the government placing additional purchase and resale restrictions on newly built public housing in prime areas from 2021.
Rental public housing
The HDB also provides public housing for rental, which consists of smaller units, such as one- and two-room flats, and is mainly provided for lower-income households and households waiting for their purchased flats. Rental public housing has lower income requirements than owner-occupied public housing.
Maintenance and renewal
In Singapore, public housing estates are maintained by Town Councils, which are divided along political constituency lines and headed by a Member of Parliament, and have full-time estate-management staff. Funding for town councils' maintenance work comes from government grants, and maintenance fees paid by estate residents and businesses.
Improvement works in older estates are carried out under the HDB's Estate Renewal Strategy. These improvement works consist of the upgrading of amenities and infrastructure to meet modern standards, and the addition of features and facilities similar to those found in newer housing estates.
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