Public Housing – A Singapore Icon
Singapore’s public housing has housed an entire nation – today, more than 1 million flats have been completed in 23 towns and 3 estates across the island. HDB flats are home to over 80% of Singapore's resident population, with about 90% of these resident households proudly owning their home.
We would like to share with you the policies, programmes, and developments that make up the Singapore brand of public housing. These portray how we have enhanced the living environment for residents, and the continual process to nurture vibrant, innovative, and sustainable communities.
What we do
Providing affordable, quality homes
We plan and develop public housing towns that provide Singaporeans with quality homes and living environments. In this effort, we engage in active research and development work to ensure that cost-effectiveness and quality standards are maintained and continually improved upon.
Ensuring vibrant towns
Even as we provide various commercial, recreational, and social amenities in our towns for residents’ convenience, one of our key priorities is ensuring that they meet changing needs and circumstances. Through renewal and upgrading programmes, we bring new features and improvements to older estates and towns to ensure their vibrancy and continued relevance.
The latest rejuvenation programme is ‘Remaking Our Heartland’, a 20- to 30-year plan to transform our estates and towns into a world-class living environment.
Focusing on the community
Another of our key priorities is the building of cohesive communities within our towns. We have furnished our living environments with community spaces for residents to mingle and interact.
Our public housing policies and schemes are formulated to meet changing needs and aspirations. They are planned to support national objectives such as maintaining racial harmony and strengthening family ties, at the same time focusing on the needs of the elderly and those who may be in financial difficulty.
With our wide network of HDB Branches, we ensure that we are well-integrated in the daily lives of the community we serve.
A brief history – from homelessness to home ownership
Before we were set up in 1960, our predecessor, the Singapore Improvement Trust, had built 20,907 units of public housing flats in the span of 12 years from 1947 to 1959. However, these were not enough to house the population of about 1.6 million at that time. Home for the majority of Singaporeans was a rented cubicle or a hut in a squatter settlement.
3 years after our formation, we had built 31,317 flats and successfully tackled the housing crisis. The flats were basic but with piped water and clean sanitation, they provided decent housing and shelter for many.
Home Ownership Scheme
In 1964, the government introduced the Home Ownership for the People Scheme to give citizens a tangible asset in the country and a stake in nation-building. This push for home ownership also improved the country’s overall economic, social, and political stability.
In 1968, to help more become home owners, the government allowed the use of Central Provident Fund (CPF) savings for the down payment and to service the monthly mortgage loan instalments. This, together with other schemes and grants introduced over the years, has made home ownership highly affordable and attractive.
Allocation and pricing
To maintain fair allocation of flats, various adjustments were made to keep up with changing times and circumstances. Flats were allocated under the Waiting List System, Booking System, Registration for Flats System, and currently the Build-To-Order System.
In providing homes for residents, we were also mindful to ensure social cohesion and a good racial mix among various ethnic communities living in public housing estates. Hence, in 1989, the Ethnic Integration Policy was implemented. In addition, since 2010, the Singapore Permanent Resident (SPR) quota has specified a maximum proportion of non-Malaysian SPR households within a block or neighbourhood. The SPR quota ensures that SPR families can integrate into the local community for social cohesion.
In pricing our flats, our principle has always been to keep homes within the reach of the majority of flat buyers. In 2006, the Additional CPF Housing Grant Scheme was introduced to help lower income families own their first homes. Since then, other grants have been put in place to help home buyers afford HDB flats. On average, buyers can expect to use less than a quarter of their monthly household income to pay for the mortgage instalment of their first flat, a figure lower than the international benchmarks for affordable housing.
Apart from ensuring that our flats are affordably priced to help Singaporeans become home owners, we encourage financial prudence and forward planning. Since January 2007, flat buyers who would like to obtain an HDB loan to buy a new flat must have a valid HDB Loan Eligibility (HLE) letter before purchasing their flat. The HLE letter considers the flat buyer’s age, income, and other financial commitments to calculate the maximum amount loanable and expected monthly instalments to ensure he/ she is not financially overstretched.
Home Protection Scheme
The Home Protection Scheme (HPS) was implemented in 1981 and administered by the CPF Board. This scheme helps to ensure that dependants of our flat owners would not lose their homes because they are unable to finance their loan in the event of death or permanent incapacity of the sole breadwinner.
Early HDB flats were designed to be simple and utilitarian to optimise space usage and keep costs low. The ease of construction was another important factor as homes had to be completed quickly to re-house those who were still living in unhygienic squatter settlements.
The early HDB flat types available were as follows:
HDB homes have evolved over the years, from basic flats catering to simple, everyday needs, to homes that meet higher aspirational desires for quality living. Our showflats, the My Nice Home Gallery, were also set up to display the quality, functionality, and spaciousness of our flats. In spite of these advancements, affordability and functionality continue to be emphasised. Different flat types are available to cater not only for nuclear families, but for singles, the elderly, and multi-generation families as well.
The surrounding spaces around estates have also been improved over the years. From simple tree planting with minimal recreational spaces or facilities, residents today can enjoy recreational facilities such as 3-generation playgrounds, fitness stations, and play courts set amid lush greenery at their doorstep.
Affordable homes for everyone
First-timer families can choose to buy a new flat from us or a resale flat from the open market. There are various housing grants and schemes available to help these buyers buy their first flat.
Eligible resale flat buyers can receive the CPF Housing Grant for the initial payment or to reduce the mortgage loan for their flat purchase. Over the years, various CPF Housing Grants, such as the Additional CPF Housing Grant (AHG) and Special CPF Housing Grant (SHG), have been introduced. These housing grants ease the financial burden of low-income and middle-income households in buying their first flat.
First-timer married couples with children, or couples who are expecting children, also get more help to buy their first flat. We have several schemes in place, such as the Parenthood Priority Scheme (PPS) that was introduced in January 2013. Under the PPS, a percentage of the flats under the Build-To-Order (BTO) and the Sale of Balance Flats (SBF) exercises are set aside for first-timer families with at least 1 child who is a Singapore Citizen (SC) under 16. This scheme applies to divorcees as well as widowed parents.
While waiting for their new flats to be completed, first-timer married couples with SC children under 16 could also get temporary housing under the Parenthood Provisional Housing Scheme (PPHS) which was also introduced in January 2013. The scheme has been reviewed to benefit more families, including all married and fiancé-fiancée couples comprising at least 1 first-timer, as well as divorced/ widowed persons with children.
Since November 2014’s BTO and SBF exercises, we have enhanced the Married Child Priority Scheme (MCPS). The improved MCPS offers applicants significantly higher chances of success. Up to 30% of the flats have been set aside for MCPS first-timer families and up to 15% for second-timer families. Within the MCPS quota, we will extend first priority to 2 groups of applicants, namely:
- Parents and married children who apply for a flat to live together under 1 roof
- Parents who own a flat in a mature estate and apply for a BTO flat in a non-mature estate to live near their married child
Although more priority is given to first-timer applicants, the needs of second-timers are not forgotten.
Second-timers now have higher chances of buying a new 2- or 3-room BTO flat in non-mature estates. Since the May 2013 BTO exercise, the BTO flat distribution quota for second-timers has been doubled from 15% to 30%. Of the 30% quota, 5% has been set aside for second-timers who are divorced or widowed with children below 16 under the Assistance Scheme for Second-Timers (Divorced/ Widowed Parents).
Further help in the form of the Step-Up CPF Housing Grant was also introduced from the July 2013 sales exercise to help families in non-mature estates upgrade from subsidised 2-room flats to 3-room standard flats. From March 2013, each party in a divorce could apply for a subsidised flat within 3 years from the date of divorce, instead of the previous requirement of 5 years.
Applicants comprising first-timers and second-timers
Starting from the July 2013 BTO exercise, a couple comprising a first-timer and a second-timer applicant enjoy the same priority in flat allocation as a family comprising 2 first-timers. This change benefits reconstructed families, such as divorcees who remarry.
Besides the MCPS, we also have other schemes that cater to the needs of multi-generation families, as family members may want to live near or with each other.
Under the Multi-Generation Priority Scheme (MGPS) introduced in March 2012, priority allocation is given to parents and their married children who submit a joint application to buy flats from a pool of pre-identified flats in the same BTO project. Parents can apply for a 2-room Flexi or 3-room flat while the married child can apply for a 2-room Flexi or bigger flat.
Since the September 2013 BTO exercise, ‘3-generation (3Gen)’ flats have been launched, to allow multi-generation families to live under one roof. Each 3Gen flat features 4 bedrooms and 3 bathrooms (2 en-suites), with an internal floor area of about 115 square metres.
HDB home ownership does not cater only to families but to singles as well.
Under the Single Singapore Citizen (SSC) Scheme or the Joint Singles Scheme (JSS), eligible singles can buy flats from us or from the resale market. Since the July 2013 BTO exercise, up to 30% of the 2-room BTO flats offered in non-mature estates have been allocated to singles. Like other flat buyers, eligible singles can enjoy CPF Housing Grants when buying a BTO or resale flat.
To meet the specific housing needs of a greying population, Studio Apartments were launched in 1998 to provide another housing option for those aged 55 and above. These apartments, equipped with elderly-friendly and other safety features, are customised for independent and elderly living.
In 2015, the 2-room Flexi Scheme, a new housing option to better cater to the diverse housing needs of families, singles and elderly, was introduced. Under the 2-room Flexi Scheme, elderly citizens have the flexibility of choosing the length of lease on their 2-room flat, based on their age, needs, and preferences. If you are aged 55 and above, you can take up a lease of between 15 and 45 years in 5-year increments, as long as it covers you and your spouse up to the age of at least 95 years.
For senior citizens who would like to age in place in a familiar environment, we have a quota-based Senior Priority Scheme (SPS). In the SPS, 40% of the 2-room Flexi flats offered during sales launches are set aside for eligible senior citizens who would like to right-size to a 2-room flat in/ near their current home or near their married children. This high percentage provides a greater assurance of success to the elderly who would like to right-size to a a 2-room Flexi flat.
First prefabrication contract
In 1980, the first successful prefabrication contract was awarded to build 3- and 4-room flats in Hougang, Tampines, and Yishun. Prefabrication technology involves the production of building components off-site and assembling them on-site. This expertise is indispensable to our building programme as it greatly reduces dependence on manual labour and increases site productivity. The Pinnacle@Duxton is an example of a development that has achieved engineering breakthroughs, as almost the entire 50-storey building was modularised and prefabricated off-site.
In March 2007, we launched our first eco-precinct, Treelodge@Punggol. This precinct integrates environmental features that focus on effective energy, water and waste management. The successful implementation of the eco-precinct is aligned with our direction towards environmentally-friendly designs for our residential projects. Many of Treelodge@Punggol’s green features have since been included in new public housing developments.
My Waterway@Punggol is Singapore’s first man-made waterway. The completion of My Waterway@Punggol in 2011 marked a significant milestone in realising the Punggol 21 Plus vision to transform the district into ‘a waterfront town of the 21st century’. The waterway has won numerous awards, such as the Chicago Athenaeum’s International Architecture Award 2013 and the Singapore Landscape Architecture Awards 2013. This project bears testament to our commitment to support and enhance the quality of life in our living environment, achieving a long-term balance of environmental stewardship, economic development, and social well-being.
Since the 1990s, we have been gradually planting rooftop greenery above multi-storey car parks to provide a relaxing view for residents looking down from higher floors. This green feature also helps to cool down the surrounding temperature and provides residents with community and recreational spaces. Other forms of skyrise greenery provided in HDB estates include vertical greenery and sky gardens on residential blocks, such as those found at The Pinnacle@Duxton.
The HDB Greenprint brings sustainable living into public housing estates via a community-centred approach. This project will be piloted in Jurong East’s Yuhua estate, where various initiatives, such as the neighbourhood-level Pneumatic Waste Conveyance System, rainwater harvesting system, solar panels, secured dual bicycle parking facilities, and roof top greening will be implemented.
Solar capacity building programme
Our solar capability building programme involves test-bedding large-scale solar photovoltaic technology for public housing as part of Singapore’s overall sustainable development strategy. The design of the solar photovoltaic systems has been optimised to maximise solar power generation for each HDB residential block, with the aim of achieving net zero-energy for common services. A solar photovoltaic system was completed at 40 blocks in Punggol Eco-Town in October 2012 under the first solar leasing tender, while installation in Yuhua, Punggol, and Ang Mo Kio are underway.
A recent solar leasing tender, the largest one awarded by us since 2009, was awarded on 27 October 2014. Under this tender, the solar photovoltaic system will be installed on the rooftops of 686 blocks in the Sembawang, Jurong, Tampines, and Marine Parade Town Councils. The Woodlands Civic Centre, Eastlink Industrial Building in Bedok, and HDB Hub in Toa Payoh will also be installed with the system.
Our Research and Development (R&D) efforts
The Building Research Institute (BRI) is our research arm to spearhead R&D efforts in building and environmental sustainability. Its master laboratory, The Centre of Building Research, is the incubation hub to develop and test-bed R&D initiatives in the following 5 key research clusters:
- Energy – We aim to reduce energy consumption in towns by using passive design and energy-efficient solutions. Alternative energy sources can be adopted through innovative business models to achieve environmental sustainability
- Urban greenery – We hope to soften the impact of urban living using innovative green solutions
- Waste and water – We conduct research on water conservation solutions and waste collection processes
- Living environment – We want to ensure high-quality sustainable urban living for all ages by studying the environmental, sociological, and liveability aspects of different building typologies. An example is the Complex Systems Modelling tool, which provides a virtual platform to simulate a living build environment. This helps us determine how best to site new flats and orientate buildings
- Building technology – We strive to achieve high quality housing and increase productivity in design and construction by leveraging on innovative and sustainable building technology. An example of how we do this is by using the Automated Precast Production System, which increases productivity and optimises space usage in precast production. This system integrates design data and facilitates the production of custom-made precast building components
First HDB blocks built
The first HDB blocks, completed in November 1960, were located at Blocks 134 and 135 at Clarence Lane in Queenstown.
First 50-storey development – The Pinnacle@Duxton
The Pinnacle@Duxton is located at the historic Duxton Plain, where the first 2 HDB blocks in the area were built. This special housing project is the result of an international design competition and is our first 50-storey development with unique features such as sky bridges, an integrated carpark, and a host of commercial and social facilities. The Pinnacle@Duxton stands out as an example of how we use innovative solutions to confront the social, physical and economic challenges of meeting housing needs in an urban setting.
The project, which has won numerous global awards, has transformed Singapore's housing landscape and marked a significant milestone in Singapore's public housing journey.
Family-friendly housing schemes: SkyVille@Dawson and SkyTerrace@Dawson
In December 2009, we piloted 2 new family-friendly housing schemes in Dawson estate, each catering to residents’ different needs.
Under the Flexi-Layout Scheme for SkyVille@Dawson, buyers were offered 3 layout options for each flat. Each flat was designed with a flat floor, beam-free ceiling, and structural columns located along the perimeter of the flat. This provided flexibility as buyers could choose varied configurations, and reconfigure the internal flat layout as part of their renovation plans to suit their changing lifestyle needs.
Under the Multi-Generation Living Scheme in SkyTerrace@Dawson, we paired Studio Apartments with 4- and 5-room flats so that parents and married children can live together in separate but adjacent units. Privacy is not compromised as the flats were designed as 2 separate units with interconnecting doors. This scheme has since been enhanced into the MGPS.
Mixed development project at Clementi Town
In November 2011, we built the Clementi Town Mixed Development – the first development in Singapore with public housing, commercial facilities, and a bus interchange integrated under one roof. The development consists of 2 40-storey residential blocks connected to a shopping mall on the lower levels, and an air-conditioned bus interchange directly linked to the existing Clementi MRT Station.
The Clementi Mixed Development displays our ingenuity in overcoming challenging site constraints and our imaginative approach to town planning. The development has won numerous awards, including the prestigious FIABCI Prix d’Excellence Award.
New integrated development: Kampung Admiralty
The new integrated development in Woodlands, Kampung Admiralty, is a modern interpretation of ‘kampung’ living, as one can dine, socialise, shop, and receive healthcare services, all under one roof. Located next to Admiralty MRT station, the development is envisaged to foster greater community bonding among its residents and reignite the ‘kampung’ spirit of yesteryear. Wide community spaces and generous green features will also be incorporated to enhance the living environment.
Kampung Admiralty is a multi-agency project developed by us in partnership with the Ministry of Health, Alexandra Health System, National Environment Agency, National Parks Board, Land Transport Authority, Ministry of Social and Family Development, and the Early Childhood Development Agency.
Notable plans and programmes
Building of Towns
To develop well-designed and planned living environments, town planning is continuously refined to include new ideas and feedback from our residents. We work closely with relevant authorities such as the Urban Redevelopment Authority on plans for land use and the provision of facilities and infrastructure.
Each HDB town has a Town Centre that functions as the core area of activity, where larger commercial facilities, train stations, and bus interchanges can be found. Unique identities are also given to each town through the inclusion of landmarks and architectural features.
Master plans for older towns are also reviewed under the Estate Renewal Strategy (ERS) programme, and this helps guide the rejuvenation process for these towns so as to ensure optimal land use for the benefit of residents.
Besides building better quality flats in new housing estates, we also provide our older estates with a new lease of life through the Estate Renewal Strategy. This comprehensive and coordinated approach covers the Main and Interim Upgrading Programmes, the Selective En bloc Redevelopment Scheme, and Lift Upgrading Programme. Other aspects of improvement for older estates, such as modernising the town centres, adding or upgrading community facilities, and improving the road and transportation network, are covered as well.
As part of the government’s continual efforts to enhance the quality of life of Singaporeans through its public housing programme, the Main Upgrading Programme (MUP) was introduced in 1990.
In August 2007, the MUP was replaced by the Home Improvement Programme. More improvement options for the residents and elderly were introduced in July 2012 under the Enhancement for Active Seniors (EASE) programme to improve the comfort and enhance the mobility of seniors and/ or vulnerable residents living in HDB flats. From March 2013, the EASE (Direct Application) was offered to elderly living in HDB flats.
The Interim Upgrading Programme Plus was also replaced by the Neighbourhood Renewal Programme, which focuses on block and neighbourhood improvements with a stronger emphasis on community engagement and consultation. In 2014, we introduced a new Selective Lift Replacement Programme to replace old lifts with modern ones that are more energy efficient, safe, and secure.
Remaking Our Heartland blueprint
During the National Day Rally in August 2007, the government offered a vision of a first-class living environment with attractive and innovative homes, where communities thrive and live modern lifestyles.
Roadmap to better living in HDB towns
In November 2011, we announced our ‘Roadmap to Better Living in HDB Towns’. This plan sets out the key priorities for our professional focus over the next 5 to 10 years to deliver a better living environment for our residents.
This Roadmap embraces sustainable urban design, social mobility, and community engagement. It focuses on creating towns with 3 key thrusts:
- Well-designed Towns
- Sustainable Towns
- Community-centric Towns
Launch of new housing areas
In August 2013, we unveiled the broad development plans for 3 new housing areas that feature new urban design concepts. In line with our ‘Roadmap to Better Living in HDB Towns’, these bear witness to our efforts in providing well-designed, sustainable, and community-centric estates.
The plans for Bidadari, Tampines North, and Punggol Matilda will capitalise on the areas' individual distinctive character, building on their history, distinctive local flavour, and features. Community spaces will also be provided to encourage interaction and cultivate strong community bonds.
The first BTO project for Tampines North was launched in 2014 and the first BTO project for Bidadari is scheduled to be launched in 2015.
Smart HDB Town framework
In September 2014, we announced our plans to embark on the development of the Smart HDB Town where Information and Communication Technology can be leveraged on to make HDB towns and estates more liveable, efficient, sustainable, and safe for residents. The ‘Smart HDB Town Framework’ maps out how we intend to introduce the Smart element in HDB towns and estates, with focus on 4 key dimensions:
- Smart planning
- Smart environment
- Smart estate
- Smart living
We will be piloting selected Smart initiatives at Punggol Northshore, our first Smart and eco-friendly district. These will be assessed for viability and suitability before being implemented in other HDB estates.