In a world of nations replete with instances of failure to meet the housing needs of their respective citizens, Singapore’s successful public-housing programme is one exception. The programme was initiated in 1960, a year after domestic self-government was gained from the British Colonial Office. Influenced by the social democratic ideology of its British-educated leaders, the newly elected government of the People’s Action Party (PAP) launched the comprehensive housing programme as a covenant with its recently enfranchised electorate. The task was entrusted to the new public-housing authority, the Housing and Development Board (HDB). Since then, the HDB has been given extensive powers in all development work—land acquisition, resettlement, town planning, architecture design, engineering work, and building material production—but not in the actual construction of the buildings, which is undertaken by private construction firms. It is also responsible for the allocation of flats and, until recently, the management of all aspects of the housing estates. 1 In other words, it is responsible for the total management of the public-housing programme, except for setting the sales and rental prices of flats, which is undertaken by the Ministry of National Development.
The programme began modestly, providing basic rental units for the poor who were living in overcongested urban shophouses and ‘squatters’ (settlements) at edges of the central business district. The latter areas were among the first to be affected by the physical rebuilding of Singapore, which eventually transformed the city into its present modern form (Chua, 1989a). Construction activities proceeded very rapidly. After only one year spent in setting up the necessary bureaucracy, the second year saw the completion of more than 7,000 rudimentary flats,