Lots of countries show off their public-housing projects, but few are quite as devoted to them as Singapore, where four-fifths of the permanent population live in subsidised units built by the government, most of them as owner-occupiers. The city-state’s suburbs bristle with HDB towers, painted calming pastel hues. This vast national housing system surprises visitors who think of Singapore as a low-tax hub for expatriate bankers and big multinationals. But HDB is a linchpin of economic and social policy and an anchor for the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP), which has led Singapore since independence. It is also a tantalising but tricky model for Singapore’s fast-urbanising neighbours to follow.
Singapore is such a fascinating case study. Over 90% of the Singapore’s land is owned by the government and the American ideal of independent home ownership is seen as antithetical to cultural norms. The government heavily subsidies young couples to live near their parents and create tight-knit communities with homelessness was eradicated (that’s the optimists’ perspective). This is all well and good for young, straight couples that choose to support the ruling political party, but critics often point out that the housing focus has also created a paternalistic component to the government that is much stronger in Singapore than in other countries. This article nicely goes with the 2017 APHG reading professional development talk entitled “The Geographies of Home” that focused on Singaporean and Japanese examples.