Why are our HDB flats so copied by other countries?
Travel to China, Vietnam and a few Asian countries and one will find many buildings with their infrastructure very similar to Singapore’s HDB. All around the world, countries have been studying Singapore’s model of housing. Implementation is easier said than done.
Between 1955 and 1956, after sending two bi-partisan delegations to London for talks with the British, David Marshall’s administration failed to gain approval from Britain for self-government in Singapore. David Marshall, taking responsibility for this failure, resigned in 1956 and soon went to form the Workers’ Party of Singapore the following year. His administration only managed to build 23,000 public housing flats in its 32 years.
The Lim Yew Hock government did not fare any better. Apart from the threat of the underground communist movement, Singapore under its administration faced problems in public order, poor economy, poor housing and sanitation, low living standards and corruption in the government.
Between 1959 and 1990, the new government led by Lee Kuan Yew took over the land use and replaced the old program in 1960 with the new Housing and Development Board.
The government was aware that the development of quality public housing for the citizens could only be successful if it achieved a few critical factors- a strong economy, a strong political will and the cooperation of its citizens.
A strong economy
To fund and manage the work and this includes planning, development, design, building and maintenance. Building for the masses require intensive resources, but it doesn’t just stop there. There is maintenance to pay for and on top of that, you have to make sure there are enough jobs for your citizens such that they may pay for utilities, amenities and improvements along the way. The government had gone even further to make sure that the strong economy lifts the value of HDB homes and helps it keep up with the rate of inflation.
Strong political will
A government that is free from foreign influence and highly independent is especially important. The political leadership cannot be subordinate to, or captured by, the interests of social groups, from big business and labour to landowners, property developers or finance. It has to work for the betterment of citizens collectively.
Cooperation of citizens
The early years of development was not all smooth sailing. Some pockets of land belonging to wealthy farmers saw fierce resistance against acquisition. However, by and large citizens were co-operative and worked together with the government – leaving their kampungs where needed, taking on new concepts such as paying for utilities and accepting ethnic integration policies.
Part of the reason why Singaporeans are able to fund the home purchases themselves, is also thanks to the CPF. The forced savings program had allowed for a means to buy property. In many countries, the term “public housing” often refers to a poorly maintained, vandalism ridden and crime infested apartments. Taxpayers money has to be used to build these. This is not the case for Singapore – our public housing is privately funded, made possible by the CPF. This is the reason why Singaporeans take care of their estates with pride.
HDB is a major successful project. By the time Lee Kuan Yew stepped down in 1990, at least 88% of Singaporeans owned their own flats.