Should land for public housing in Singapore be priced at a nominal rate?

house, public, HDB, Singapore, land, flats

You’ve heard this before: that land for HDB flats should be priced lower, even at a nominal fee of $1 because it is land for public housing. After all, land assets, as part of the reserves, belong to the people

The problem with this line of reasoning is that public housing in Singapore has taken on a level far beyond what public housing is understood to be. 

In many parts of the world, public housing is subsided housing for the poor. They are usually rental flats situated in poor neighbourhoods with little amenities, and often poorly maintained.

In Singapore, public housing has evolved to become providing a quality lifestyle to meet the aspirations of its people.

The story of public housing in Singapore began the same way as elsewhere: to provide basic and functional low-cost housing.

The first blocks were built as simple long slabs with flats lined along a common corridor, enabling construction to proceed quickly and easily.

Block 1-3 in Lorong 7 Toa Payoh, 1969

Over the years, the focus was shifted to developing towns to support a quality lifestyle. Thus satellite towns were built. These are self-sufficient  with amenities such as transport nodes and malls at the town centre, while neighbourhoods had their own food outlets, provision shops, and facilities to meet residents’ daily needs within a stone’s throw. 

Fast-forward to today, Singapore’s public housing landscape is strikingly different from its early iterations.

In shaping the new generation of public housing, good design is the key to creating functional, efficient, and quality developments in sustainable and comfortable living environments, says HDB Chief Executive Officer,

It just gets better and better as the HDB incorporates green and smart elements in its housing designs.

Here, there is no stigma associated with public housing. It is a source of pride. At least 85% of households live in public housing. Many home owners also own cars including Lexus, BMW and what-have-yours.

The Pinnacle @ Duxton emerged as a winner at the Chicago-based Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (CTBUH) Annual Awards Programme 2019.

Even then, public housing continues to be highly subsidised.

For the Financial Year (FY) 2021/22, HDB recorded a deficit of $3.85 billion in its Homeownership Programme. The average deficit incurred by HDB in the last three years (FY2019/20 – FY2021/22) was about $2.68 billion a year.

HDB’s deficit is largely due to the significant subsidies extended for new flats and the disbursement of CPF housing grants for eligible buyers

Let’s go back to the argument that land should be priced at a nominal rate because it is for public housing

We have seen that public housing in Singapore is no longer ‘public’ housing in a strict sense. Public housing in Singapore is about housing a nation and meeting the aspirations of its people.  

Given that the vast majority of households (85%) in Singapore live in HDB flats and many are not poor, how does one argue for ‘free’ land to house 85% of households while expecting the other 15% to pay full market price for land

Where is the equity? It just can’t be. 

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