The solution to the housing problem

Singapore is an island and cannot send its working classes to live on the periphery. It has managed to give them a roof over their heads through the most ambitious public housing system in the world

Singapore is probably the country with the least regulated economy in the world. This is certified by the Heritage Foundation, a liberal think tank financed by the Koch brothers that annually prepares this ranking on “economic freedom” with which it aims to demonstrate that the richest and most advanced countries are the least intervened. In the 2019 edition, Spain appears in the 57th position, between Indonesia and Slovenia. This is a far, far cry from Singapore, which every year competes for gold with Hong Kong.

In addition to the ‘posterboy’ of market authoritarianism (models with little political freedom and a lot of economic freedom, very common in Asia), the star tiger of the Southeast has functioned for years as a laboratory of globalization, a “controlled environment”, literally an island, in which challenges have arisen that some time later have reached other metropolises on the continent and the world. Among the most complex, that of having been able to ensure a roof for all its local population while becoming one of the nerve centers of financial capitalism.

The questions would be more or less the following: Where to house the working classes in 721 km2 of land (little more than the municipality of Madrid) in constant vertical transformation towards finance, elite education and technological innovation? How to prevent office skyscrapers and hotel bombings from pushing families into the sea that are not growing at the same rate as the island’s GDP? How has the government managed to avoid citizen discontent like the one that has paralyzed Hong Kong for months? To learn more, please take a moment to visit Ready Home Singapore for more useful information.

Leaving it to the laws of the marketplace?

Quite the opposite.

If we rule out communist dictatorships like North Korea, Singapore is the society that has built the most public housing per capita in recent decades. Today, 82% of the population lives in apartments built by the government and delivered at affordable, tightly controlled prices. A little more than 90%, moreover, are owners.

How has this been possible? Óscar Carracedo García-Villalba, born in Barcelona 47 years ago and currently director of the Master’s in Urban Planning and director of the Urban Resilience program at the Department of Architecture at the National University of Singapore, helps us understand this.

What do we mean by ‘public housing’ in Singapore?

The so-called HDB, the acronym for the Housing & Development Board, the public body that regulates the entire construction and management process. Since its creation in 1960, this institution has delivered more than one million apartments. They are currently in the fifth generation. Following the principles of the modern movement, the vast majority have a similar structure, with buildings of between 10 and 12 heights, open and common first floors intended for neighborhood activities and serving as public space and communication with surrounding buildings.

Are they human beehives or luxury apartments?

I would say neither one nor the other. They are high-rise communities, like those that could be built in Spain in the seventies and eighties, but the qualities are not luxury, it is public housing. The new generations of projects have better standards, but the older ones lack things like air conditioning, since they are designed with the principles of tropical “passive energy” architecture.

Are all apartments built the same?

The sizes and typologies vary and the offer is different in each project. From five rooms for those who have children or parents in charge, to studios for those who live alone, although young singles can only access public housing from the age of 32. As far as prices are concerned, they depend on the type of apartment chosen, but they are kept within fixed tables that are updated year after year.

Does everyone living in Singapore have access to this?

Not everyone. The legislation leaves out of the access to purchase public housing to about 25% of the inhabitants: the ‘expatriates’ and immigrants. Basically, those who do not have a passport or permanent residence: about a million and a half people. It must be taken into account that most of the housing is for sale, and only a small number is for rent to those with lower incomes who cannot afford to buy.

If the prices are so low, isn’t there a kick in getting public housing?

Being a city-state, the government knows very well the profiles and the demand of the local population, so it can cover the needs. The state builds new apartments in relation to forecasts, although there are always certain waiting lists. At the same time, the state continually argues that, as it is an island, there is a shortage of land, so sometimes new homes are built by tearing down existing ones and making new developments more dense and with more units. At present there is a certain crisis in production, since demand has been reduced by the low birth rate. Something that is expected to continue to accentuate.

And how do they pay for all this?

Singapore has another peculiarity that obeys other acronyms, the so-called CPF (Central Provident Fund), a kind of pension fund from which money can be drawn at any time for some specific purposes. It is a fairly unique flexible system, similar to our social security, in which the State retains a percentage of the salary of around 25%. Unlike the Spanish social security system, people can spend part of the fund if necessary for a number of social expenses, such as co-payments for health, education… or housing. The HDBs are partially financed by the money collected through this system, as well as by other taxes and income derived from other activities. What’s special about this system is that you don’t have to wait until you retire to have that money. If you need it, you can use it, for example, to exercise such a basic right as housing.

Does the government distribute the apartments as it wants?

The HDB administers various aspects, for example, the ethnic distribution of the neighborhoods, assigning quotas so that racial ghettos are not generated among the four main ethnic groups in the country. They also see to it that families are regrouped, helping everyone to live close to their close relatives, so that younger people can take care of their older ones if they wish. In this way they prioritize the distribution according to many social variables. Likewise, people are encouraged to easily change apartments throughout their lives. For example, they can move to a larger apartment when they have children and return to a smaller one when the children leave home. If you want to find great information, kindly follow Parc Esta Condo to learn more.

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