It is no easy feat that everyone in Singapore has a roof over their heads

“I started this business of building homes for our people. Compare the puny work I achieved and the fantastic HDB homes that are available today for our people. I am deeply impressed and I take off my hat to this very able honest government. Dedicated!”

Guess who made this quote?

Yeap, it was none other than David Marshall, the founder of the Worker’s Party and Chief Minister of Singapore.

HDB flats are so common and it is taken for granted that everyone will eventually own one at some point, we often forget how impressive a feat it is to build functional, beautiful, accessible homes with good amenities. HDB has been around for 60 years and has become part and parcel of Singaporean life. It is more than a roof over our heads, it is literally a place where our culture grew up with us.

In many other cities in the world, there is a serious lack to affordable and adequate housing. This lack has contributed to social inequalities; Hong Kong would be a convenient example. Singapore on the other hand has one of the highest home owership rates in the world at 91%

All around the developed world, it is more common to rent than it is to own. Here are some fast stats:

  • Canada: 67%
  • United States: 68%
  • United Kingdom: 63.5%
  • Hong Kong: 51%
  • Switzerland: 43%

The HDB as we knew it did not come by easily. Just pick up any book on Singapore’s history and you’ll quickly learn about how difficult it was to even start the project.

The PAP had to make some very difficult decisions: forcibly relocate people, redevelop cemetery land at the risk of offending the people, force people of different races to live together and get along. These decisions would cost them politically later on in history, but it was for the greater good. Look at Singapore today – if we had been weak willed and feared the negative opinions of a vocal minority, we wouldn’t have achieved the high housing rates we have today.

It was not just the building that was difficult, funding and maintaining it was no small feat either and the only way it was possible to do this, was through a strong economy. There had to be jobs and investment to help pay for all these homes and their amenities – it was a simultaneous task for the government to undertake.

Today, we enjoy high homeownership rates, beautiful flats and excellent amenities… but the aspirations of our citizens are changing. Now that everyone has a flat, we want more rooms, more unique architecture, bigger malls, hospitals, carparks, expressways, parks and various other facilities.

Everyone today wants an investment property on top of their HDBs, everyone now wants to bequeath property to their children. We’re really just a small country but our ambition and appetite is very much larger. We frequently forget that Singapore is but (give or take) 721 sq km. 

Whilst the ambitions and hurdles facing our leadership is getting more complex, let us not forget about the basics – the aspiration to continue building homes, so that each and every Singaporean will have a place to call their own. 

As Singaporeans, it is important for us to never forget how difficult it was to have come this far and how difficult the task is such that many cities around the world are still unable to meet the demand for homes. Yet through a skilled leadership we have been able to do this and it is through this that we can expect rising homeownership to continue.

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