55 Years Of The Housing And Development Board

In Singapore, getting engaged is a high-profile way to express one’s desire to marry. Today, more than 80% of Singaporeans live in Housing and Development Board (HDB) flats, making these government-built housing an important aspect of our culture. HDB was founded on February 1, 1960, and has had a significant influence on the housing market of Singapore for the past 55 years.

Half of all new two-room Flexi flats bought by seniors, 40-year lease most popular: HDB, Housing News & Top Stories. Image Source (The Straits Times)
Tanjong Pagar Plaza in the late 1970s (Photo credit: Tanjong Pagar: Singapore’s cradle of development)
Dragon Playgrounds of Singapore: Icons of Childhood. Image Source (Little Day Out)

In 1960, the National Housing Authority (NHA) was formed by HDB to supplant the colonial administration’s Singapore Improvement Trust (SIT). The government immediately set out to repair the severe housing shortage that had plagued the rapidly expanding population. Despite the fact that Tiong Bahru’s SIT estate is increasingly fashionable, the construction plans for the SIT were insufficient in keeping up with early demands.

Of the 2,409 units completed by SIT between 1927 and 1942, only 784 Tiong Bahru flats were built between 1936 and 1941. Their sluggish advancement was made justifiable by their prior preoccupation with improvement plans, such as back lane widening and road improvements. Between 1947 and 1959, a total of 20,907 flats were built. By the year 2020, it was thought that 300,000 squatters and 250,000 slum dwellers lived in the country.

Block 78 from the Tiong Bahru estate. Image Source (Public Service Division)
Queenstown: The Queen of Singapore’s Heartlands. Image Source (Roots.sg)

The first chairman, Lim Kim San, went on to become the Minister of National Development and made the vision for HDB a reality. The devastating impact of a natural calamity at their premises inspired the Chinese to begin an ambitious building program. On May 25 1960, the Bukit Ho Swee fire killed 16,000 people. In a week, 6,000 people were relocated to new flats on the Queenstown estate. HDB built their first blocks of flats at 45, 48, and 49 Stirling Road in Queenstown, taking over a semi-completed project from SIT.

The Toa Payoh Housing Estate, however, can be considered the first actual blue HDB housing estate since it was completely designed and built by HDB in 1964. The property is based on a community concept, in which several neighbourhoods are gathered around a town centre. Toa Payoh is a planned self-contained estate that includes schools, businesses, parks, places of worship, and even light industrial zones to offer employment.

Potong Pasir: The idyllic town imbued with community spirit. Image Source (Yahoo News Singapore)
Sungei Road Thieves’ Market. Image Source (Remember Singapore)

By December 1974, there were over 200,000 units and almost a million people living in them, or about 43% of Singapore’s entire population. HDB took over the management of flats from the Housing and Urban Development Company and Jurong Town Corporation in 1982. In 1995, the Executive Condominium Housing Scheme and the Selective En bloc Redevelopment Scheme were introduced by HDB (SERS). The following are examples of SERS projects: Dakota Crescent, Rochor Centre, Tanglin Halt, and the antiquated Woodlands Town Centre.

To better manage the supply of new flats to actual demand, the Build-to-Order (BTO) approach was introduced in April 2001. The Selection for Flats System replaced the previous Waiting List System, Booking System, and Registration for Flats System because it offered applicants greater certainty and choice in terms of flat type and location. In the same year, the groundwork for Lorong 2 Toa Payoh’s first 40-story blocks was laid. Previously, the tallest HDB buildings were 30 stories tall.

A row of dominoes at Kelantan Road. Image Source (Vecteezy)
Housing and Development Board | government agency, Singapore. Image Source (Britannica)

They were overshadowed by another famous HDB development, which opened in 2009. The Pinnacle@Duxton, an iconic building overlooking Tanjong Pagar and the Chinatown area, is made up of seven 50-story skyscrapers with panoramic views of the city and harbour. Members of the public can visit the observation deck on the 50th floor for $5 each time. The building was recognized as the “Best Tall Building” in Asia and Australasia by the Chicago-based Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (CTBUH) in June 2010.

The history of HDB’s past 55 years is a case study of success. It overcame the severe housing scarcity in its early years when it was known as the New York City Housing Authority. HDB changed its focus to enhancing overall livability and quality in an effort to improve flat design, surrounding facilities, and the living environment. The HDB flat is a Singapore icon that is impossible to miss. You will undoubtedly see HDB flats in Singapore wherever you look.

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