How Singapore Solved their Housing Crisis After WWII

How Singapore Solved their Housing Crisis After WWII

Image Credits: Photo by Joshua Ang on Unsplash.

A Quick History Lesson

Singapore was originally a British colony, serving as a major trading port in Southeast Asia. In February 15th, 1942, the Japanese seized control of Singapore from the British. The Japanese occupation was devastating to Singapore; the loss of infrastructure and the shattered economy left its citizens in a famine. 

By September 2nd, 1945, the draconian rule of the Japanese ended with their surrender and the British resumed control of war torn Singapore. Singapore was fortunate to not have been targeted by many bombings and therefore, most of its buildings were only damaged through lack of maintenance. 

The Singapore economy was revived when trade resumed and was able to grow its GDP to 2149.6 Million in 1960.

However, despite their economic success, only 9% of Singaporeans in 1960 lived in government flats. The majority of citizens lived in unhygienic slums and squatters. 

To solve this, Singapore established the Housing and Development Board (HDB) to replace the inefficient Singapore Improvement Trust (SIT). The objective was simple. The nation would have one government branch dedicated to the project management of housing the nation’s citizens and would correspond with other core governing branches. 

In the span of 5 years, HDB was able to efficiently build over 54,000 flats. 

In 10 years, they resolved their housing crisis. 

To date, Singapore stands as an international example in housing with approximately 90% citizen home ownership. 

A Small Red Dot

To best understand Singapore’s success, we must first understand the nation’s constraints. In 1960, Singapore had a population of approximately 1.646 million people. Geographically, Singapore occupies about 637.5 sq Kilometres (roughly 237 sq miles). To put this into perspective, Singapore occupies less space than New York City (302.6 sq miles).

This shortage of land space was mitigated by building upwards. With residential buildings typically standing at 30 stories and reaching up to 50 stories, HDB was able to provide hundreds of units within a single block. Ground floors are used for community areas, small retailers, food courts (commonly referred to as Hawker centers), meat markets, and produce markets. 

To maximise longevity, the buildings are built with a concrete frame capable of withstanding earthquake reverberations.

Integration with other services

While the vision of HDB played a major role in housing, the integration with other Singaporean development boards played a huge role as well. 

Water supply and drainage, managed by the Public Utilities Board (PUB), ensures clean water is supplied to the residential units and monsoon rains do not lead to any flooding. 

Tiered subsidies for Singaporean citizens were provided dependent on income levels. Furthermore, HDB flats are often funded at market rates and then sold to citizens at a deficit

Buying power is further enabled for a citizen through a national mandatory pension scheme known as the Central Provident Fund (CPF). Through a citizens CPF, they can use a portion of the fund to serve as a down payment for a HDB flat without critically affecting their retirement fund. 

The last board I will mention would be the Land Transport Authority. Through an intricate network of buses and mass railway transit trains (MRT trains), Singapore has greatly reduced the need for personal vehicles. Less vehicles meant less parking garages. Therefore, more land for residential and commercial use. 


In the short span of 60 years, Singapore has become leading example for housing policy across the world including but not limited to Hawaii and the United Kingdom. Much of their success derives from government foresight, the trauma of war, and the collaboration with other government divisions. Singapore provides a unique story in mitigating housing for its citizens.  

Without diving too much into the debates of privatisation vs government or capitalism vs socialism, I want to stress one key element of Singapore’s success that may be overlooked otherwise. 

Of the many systems of exchange, an absence of focus is where we find the Western world at its weakest. Singapore knew that in order to be a respected nation in a modern society, a clear vision for the future was needed. There was no room for conflicting interests. Singapore’s success is founded on the integration of its governing boards into one core system of exchange. The atrocities of war had scarred its founding members, motivating Singapore to adopt an ambitious growth plan with its citizens welfare at the core.

Additional resources

Hwa, C. (1979). Economic Change in Singapore, 1945-1977. Southeast Asian Journal of Social Science, 7(1/2), 81-113. Retrieved April 19, 2020, from

Yuen, Belinda. Squatters no more: Singapore social housing, Global Urban Development Vol. 3, Issue 1 November 2007

Andrew Folkler

One Million Dollars, No Strings Attached

#Erased: My Review on the documentary Erasing Family

Image Credits: Akshay Nanavati on Unsplash.

Just about a year ago, I realised I was approaching a plateau at work. I had been working in retail for 4 years at the time. Each year I was promoted and if I continued to work hard, I could easily run my own store in 3 – 4 years. 

I would make well over 100 grand a year before bonuses and could even get my foot in the corporate world if I dared to. 

Several of my colleagues were on this path and I knew I could achieve the same results. The career ladder was secure, a tried and proven way to make a comfortable living. The only requirement from me was time and labor. The rest of the journey was already planned out. 

One Million Dollars, No Strings Attached

I think back to an interview I once bombed in 2016 where my interviewer Zak Slayback asked me, 

“If you had one million dollars, with no strings attached, what would you do with it?

I had no idea.

Desperately wanting to say something, my mind defaulted to looking for a pleasing model answer. Mustering whatever courage I had left for this interview I said,

“I want to start a business.”

And calmly he replies, “Ok… business in what?”

I had no answer and I knew I blew my chance. At the time I had no idea what I liked or disliked, let alone wanted for myself.  I just wanted a quick solution. I wanted someone to tell me this is the ladder to success, go climb it. And it was painfully obvious to him that I was blathering my way through this interview. 

Don’t get me wrong, it is a difficult question to answer. It took me 4 years to come up with something tangible of my own. Some people go through their entire lives without ever finding their own answer. 

Life is What Happens After You Make Plans

From 2019, to the time of writing this post, every dollar I saved went to my copy writing business. Whenever I was not at work, I was studying at home, learning the craft and inching my way towards my goal. 

In that time, I have burned out several times at work, got myself dangerously close to being fired, and sacrificed a great deal of time out with friends. I set goals that were met with ease and many others that were met with repeated failures. 

I planned to start full time copy writing in March of 2020. 

And then COVID-19 came around. 

Toto, I’ve Got A Feeling We’re Not In Kansas Anymore

Admittedly, I didn’t know how I was going to be able to navigate through the pandemic as a freelancer. I waited, read articles from those who were more experienced and ended up focusing my attention namely to my current job in retail. 

After all, it is easier to walk a path that is planned out for you. 

I realise now, I let my own fears kick in and spent two additional months working in a job I had outgrown. All for whatever security I could cling to. And while I could make a strong case for myself – I have bills, a mortgage to pay, and plans to see family across the world.

What good does it do me to continue to fear making that transition anyway? If I am not responsible for my own success, who will be?

But Andrew, if you make one too many mistakes, you won’t be able to pay your bills. You would fall apart. Your credit will tank. You could lose everything you earned! 

Well friends… beyond the yellow brick road is a man pretending to be a wizard. 

The true magic lies within ourselves. 

And it is worth more than a million dollars.

Andrew Folkler