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Public Housing System: Singapore

Singapore’s Housing Development Board provides housing to 80 percent of residents

June 4, 2023
Author: Paula Sevilla Núñez

Singapore’s Housing Development Board (HBD) builds housing that is accessible to all residents at below market prices. Residents can finance their mortgage through their pension funds, and grants are available for lower-income groups. Mechanisms such as resale limits prevent speculation. HDB also ensures both diversity of housing and people across neighborhoods to prevent exclusion and segregation. HBD also provides community facilities and access to transportation in addition to the homes. Singapore now has one of the highest home ownership rates in the world at 88 percent.

Singapore was colonized by Britain in 1824, following World War II and Japanese occupation, it then became part of Malaysia. In 1965, Singapore gained independence and has since become known for its rapid economic growth. Prior to independence, most housing in Singapore was overcrowded and lacked access to water and sanitation, with only 8.8 percent of residents living in public housing.1 In 1960, the Housing and Development Board (HDB) was created under the Ministry of National Development, and since 1964 it began building and providing housing at below-market prices to residents. The 1966 Land Acquisition Act enabled the state to acquire land for development, after which housing was built through the HDB and units would then be leased for 99 years to households.2

HDB provides up to 25-year mortgage loans, at an interest rate of 2.6 percent, with monthly payments limited to up to 30 percent of a household’s income.3 HDB units’ prices are below market rate, as the HDB provides additional grants and subsidies depending on the household’s income, and for first-time buyers.4 To prevent speculation, households are only allowed to occupy one apartment at a time,5 and HDB units can only be sold on a secondary market after five years.6

To facilitate financing for housing, savings from the Central Provident Fund (CPF), the mandatory pension fund, are allowed to be used as down payments and mortgage payments for public housing. This allows households to use funds that they are required to set aside by law for housing, instead of having to build up additional savings.7 CPF receives mandatory contributions from employers and employees, and funds can only be withdrawn either at age 55 or for very specific purposes, which has included housing since 1968.8 By having the payments come from the CPF instead of each household, there is a lower risk of default as the CPF has greater funds available.9

Implementation

In 2022, there were around 1.1 million HDB apartment units.10 HDB “towns” where public housing units are located are equipped with communal spaces such as neighborhood food centers and shopping areas, and have access to public transport, schools and green and recreational spaces.11 There are apartments of different sizes and types in each building and town to ensure people with diverse income levels and household sizes live near each other. Furthermore, the Ethnic Integration Policy introduced in 1989 established quotas by ethnic groups on the purchase of new housing to prevent segregation of ethnic groups.12 Increased community participation is encouraged through resident committees and community center activities,13 and feedback from residents is collected through Sample Household Surveys.14

In the 2000s, further grants such as the Additional Housing Grant, the Special Housing Grant, and the Step-Up Housing Grant were incorporated to provide further funds to low-income families, first-time buyers, and to upgrade apartments. These grants all vary depending on household income. For example, the AHG ranges from SGD 5000 or USD 3750 (for monthly incomes below SGD 5,000) to SGD 40,000 (USD 30,000) for incomes below SGD 1,500 (USD 1,125).15 Additional measures to prevent speculation, such as setting completion dates on housing construction projects or taxes on additional properties (“additional buyer stamp duty”)–17 percent for citizens—have been introduced.16 For low-income households, housing grants can reach up to SGD 110,000 (USD 82,500).17

Cost

More than 40 percent of social expenditures in Singapore is related to housing provision through HDB,18 and housing investment in Singapore has remained high in comparison to other countries, averaging seven percent of GDP and 23 percent of total investment.19 More than three-quarters of HDB’s housing stock is financed through CPF savings: in 2016, withdrawals from the CPF for housing totaled 46 percent of contributions (four percent of GDP).20

Assessment

Homeownership for residents in Singapore increased from 29 percent in 1970 to 88 percent by 1990.21 Homeownership among the bottom 10 percent of the resident population is 84 percent, and 87 percent for the bottom 20 percent.22 With the housing grants available, mortgage payments can potentially be less than a quarter of monthly income for first-time homebuyers—as low as seven percent.23 Studies show that HDB’s various grants substantially increase the affordability of housing, particularly for lower-income populations. The median house price to income ratio (PIR) can be as low as 1.9 for new flats and lower-income households (compared to 4.8 for private apartments in Singapore, 5.7 in New York, and 8.5 in London).24 Furthermore, according to HDB surveys, 93 percent of households are satisfied with their apartment, 95 percent with the neighborhood, and 90 with walkability and accessibility to transportation and commerce.25 Nevertheless, the HDB is only available to residents, and leaves out the migrant population (which makes up around a quarter of the population), exposing them to limited and expensive housing options.26

Additional Information

Price difference: According to some sources, private condos cost between SGD 750–2,000 per square foot compared to HDB apartments costing SGD SGD 300–700 per square foot.27 Studies demonstrate that the price gap between HDB apartments and private properties ranged between 190 percent and 239 percent depending on the size of the apartment.28

Range of grants: Each household can apply to different grants and different amounts depending on their monthly income, their family size, the kind of apartment they are looking for, and whether it is a “build-to-order” or a resale apartment.29

References

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