To Build or Not?

HDB Flats

I was recently at a session of Our Singapore Conversation (OSC) organized by the Ministry of  National Development (MND) to have a serious discussion with participating Singaporeans about the types of HDB flats available to all Singaporeans.

The night's discussion was a lively one. Most of the crowd present used the opportunity to talk about their concern that public housing is slowly raising beyond the reach of the average Singaporean. There was one person in particular who raised an eyebrow or 2 in the room.

When asked by facilitators whether HDB should continue building Executive Condos (EC) or Design Build Sell Scheme (DBSS) a certain individual shocked everyone by saying yes. Even more surprising was the rationale behind this individual's reason for saying yes. "HDB should build more ECs and DBSS so Singaporeans who want to play the property market but can't afford private housing are able to get in on the action through their public housing."

If this idea sickens you then you are not alone in feeling this way. The concept of public housing after all is supposed to help the common folk have a roof over their heads. It is not a commodity or appreciating asset to be used in a get rich quick scheme to profit from. 

Mr. Lee Kuan Yew, the architect of Singapore, mentioned in an interview (link) that public housing in Singapore is meant to give Singaporeans a sense of ownership and an attachment to our country and home. Something that we would be willing to fight for. "We were asking people to get their sons to do National Service, to learn to fight for the country. Unless you give them a home, why should they be fighting?" 

The very fact that we have Singaporeans who seem to think otherwise is symptomatic of the growing greed that is pervading this society. Your home is the place where you first tentatively carried your newly married bride into as you begin your future together. It's the place where you watched your first born child take their first tentative steps and speak their first word. How are you supposed to develop a sense of attachment to your dwelling if all you see are dollars signs and not poignant memories when you look at it?

The good news is that it seems that this individual who said our public housing is an entitlement for us to enter and ply the property market is in the minority. Why? Because when the question was thrown up to the entire room of participants, the resounding answer was: HDB should only focus on building affordable housing for Singaporeans. 

Many in the room went on to add that people who want to speculate in property should do it with their own money and buy within their means. The audience agreed that it is wrong to use tax payer subsidized housing to do so. I sincerely hope that this perception is not limited to this room of individuals. Otherwise there is inherently something very wrong with Singaporean society that we need to face up to.

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