Singapore’s successful long-term public housing strategies

by Signe Cecilie Jochumsen and Søren Smidt-Jensen

Today, Singapore is one of the densest cities in the world. Over some 60 years, the city has accomplished an extraordinary rise in the level of living conditions and the economic growth has been massive. In 1960s about 1,3 mio. of the 1,9 mio. lived in squatter huts, single storey sheds constructed with cardboards, zinc sheets, sticks and poles. Furthermore, at that time, there was only a weak sense of nationhood – a feeling of belonging to Singapore. In 1960, the Housing and Development Board (HDB) was set up to solving the nation’s housing crisis, and important goal of the HDB was also to push home ownership in order to foster a stronger sense of Singapore as the home country.

 Rented apartments for the poorest people who could not afford to pay rent were build in large numbers in the 1960s and 1970s (some would say the modernist) dream), and In the mid-1980s, through public housing policies, Singapore was more or less slum and squatter free.

During the World Cities Summit 2012, the IFHP Travel Squad asked Dr. Cheong, CEO of the Housing and Development Board, responsible for about 82% of housing in Singapore, what the role of housing has been for the success of Singapore:

“A very important investment that the government did from the very beginning when the country was a young and independent country was to invest in housing. We made sure that our people had good and affordable housing. Today the home ownership in Singapore is more than 90%, and the share of rental housing is very low. These state policies have very important for social stability and building the sense of nationhood. I think that Singapore’s long-term approach to planning and public housing has been two very important pillars for us to develop to where we are today.”

Dr. Cheong, CEO of the Housing and Development Board in Singapore

Another remarkable housing policy that has been in place since the late 1970s is a policy to avoid ethnic segregation and instead mix the many ethnic groups. The policy was set in place because the governmental HDB noticed that when one ethnic group became predominant in certain areas, other ethnic groups would stay away. The purpose of the policy was to set limits for each of the 3 major ethnic groups (Chinese, Malay, Indian) in one housing area.  Again, a housing policy that had several purposes: avoiding ethnic segregation, encourage mixed communities and in that way build the Singaporean multicultural nationhood.

Today, 82% of Singaporeans live in flats organized by the HDB and satisfaction rate reaches 95%. For all of the Singaporeans together, the home ownership is 93%, which is the highest in the world (HDB, 2012). One of the main reasons why home ownership is so high is that it through law is made possible to take loan in your personal pension-funds from the day you start earning money. In this way, even low-income groups can find funding to buy their own home.

Learn more about HDB at

Articles from the World Cities Summit brought to you in partnership with The International Federation for Housing and Planning, and Sustainable CitiesTM, a part of the Danish Architectural Centre