History of Public Housing in Singapore

Since 1920s..

Public housing in Singapore has been at the front of government policy for a century, and looks set to be for the foreseeable future. It has come a long way from a very low base, and it hasn’t been a smooth ride, but it is hard to knock what has been achieved in a relatively small timescale.


Singapore Improvement Trust (SIT)
Singapore Improvement Trust (SIT) Logo

The Singapore Improvement Trust (SIT) Logo

Housing in Singapore was blighted in the early 20th century by overcrowding, poor hygienic and living conditions. People were crowded into shophouses, slums and squatter settlements, forcing the British colonial government to try and put some island wide initiative in place. The result was the Singapore Improvement Trust (SIT) which was proposed in 1920, with the bill finally being approved seven years later.

The trust’s first project was the Tiong Bahru Estate. It took almost a decade to flatten the existing village and houses, as well to complete the exhumation of the many graves in the area, but finally in 1936 the first flats were built. The blocks, constructed in the now familiar art deco style, were mainly 3 to 5 storeys, and built with thick walls and underground bunkers due to the threat of the oncoming war.

Chinatown had earlier been identified as one of the worst areas for slum housing, and this was the next area the SIT attempted to tackle. Starting in 1938 they built several public flats at New Bridge Road, Trengganu Street and Banda Street which survived until the mid 1970’s when they were demolished to be replaced by the Kreta Ayer Centre.

Other notable projects included the of Balestier estate near Lorong Limau, Upper Bukit Timah, Upper Pickering Street, Little India and Tanglin Halt, Queenstown.

Though its heart was in the right place, the SIT was struggling to keep its head above water, and after the Second World War Singapore’s population grew exponentially, further exposing its ineffectiveness.

When it was dissolved in 1959, it had only managed to build 32,000 units.



Housing and Development Board (HDB)
Ex HDB logo

The HDB logo in the 60s

Established in 1960 from the ashes of the SIT, the HDB adopted some of the plans undertaken by the SIT, but on a much grander scale. The SIT had tried to build estates around a commercial center; the HDB started building whole new towns throughout the island. Carrying on from where the SIT left off in Queenstown, the Princess Margaret Estate was the first project undertaken in 1962, followed by the even larger Toa Payoh – which was the first completely new HDB town created. Others followed, and several huge developments, dubbed Minicities were built Bukit Timah and Marine Parade, as well as Changi Village, Lim Chu Kang, Farrer Park and Seletar. Policy shifted however towards smaller, HDB towns, Bukit Merah, Geylang and Kallang/Whampoa being good examples of this latter development. The scheme enjoyed much greater success than its predecessor, due to a combination of greater funding and planning. It provided a continuous supply of low-cost affordable flats for the population. Low-middle income families were able to rent, and later purchase, housing units at reasonable rates and enjoy – many for the first time – the convenience of having water, electricity and gas supplies in their homes.


HDB logo

HDB logo

By the 1990’s the HDB were supplying the housing market with 30,000 flats a year. AT this time the board also removed the pricing constraints they had put on HDB flats leaving them open to market forces. This quickly saw prices soar, many above the reach of many Singaporeans, something that continues to be a contentious issue to this day.








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