Sunday, March 14, 2021

A timeline of Singapore’s public housing policy for singles


MARCH 13, 2021

  • Singapore's policy on singles living in public housing has evolved over the years.
  • In the 1960s, singles were not able to have their own public housing flat
  • The arrival of the Housing and Urban Development Company (HUDC) in the 1970s meant singles could buy these flats. HUDC catered to a segment of S'poreans able to buy a place better than typical public housing yet unable to afford private housing
  • It was only in 1991 that singles above 35 years old were able to buy resale HDB flats, but limited to three-room flats at selected locations
  • Since 2000, there have been a series of policy moves to provide more HDB options for singles  

SINGAPORE — Compared with their married counterparts, singles in Singapore have generally faced greater hurdles in acquiring a flat from the Housing and Development Board (HDB), perhaps most notably in having to hit the minimum age of 35 years old before one can purchase a flat. 

However, earlier in the Republic’s history, singles were not even allowed to buy public housing flats at all as housing policies were focused on meeting the needs of families.

Former National Development Minister S Dhanabalan said in 1988 that allowing singles to buy their own flats and live alone would also be in direct conflict with the Government’s efforts to preserve the traditional family unit.

Fast forward to the present day, and the priorities of family formation are still clearly reflected in HDB’s housing policies, as married couples or those looking to wed do not face any age restrictions and are allocated shorter waiting times for a Build-to-Order (BTO) flat, which refers to subsidised housing sold by the agency.

But the HDB has also gradually relaxed its rules for singles as demographic patterns show that Singaporeans are choosing to marry later or not at all.

[Simply stated, it is about scarce resources and priorities. When singles and families both want housing, but you have limited resources, you need to prioritise. If you provide for a family, you house a family and probably (hopefully?) children (in time to come). Now with most families housed/provided for, and with more Singaporeans delaying or rejecting marriage, HDB (and the SG Govt) can provide for Singles.]

TODAY looks at the evolution of Singapore’s public housing policy for singles since the 1960s.


1960: The HDB is formed as a successor to the Singapore Improvement Trust, a housing agency set up by the British colonial authorities. Singaporeans were initially able only to rent HDB apartments

1964: HDB sets up the Home Ownership for the People Scheme to enable low-income Singaporeans to purchase a flat. Eligible buyers had to be part of a family unit comprising at least two people

1968: Singaporeans are allowed to use savings in their Central Provident Fund (CPF) to pay for their flats


1971: An HDB resale market is established, allowing homeowners to sell their flats after serving a minimum occupancy period

1974: The Housing and Urban Development Company (HUDC) is set up to cater to a segment of Singaporeans able to buy a place better than typical public housing yet unable to afford private housing. Singles were allowed to purchase HUDC flats


1980: HUDC announces that singles can use their CPF monies to buy HUDC flats

1981: Then-National Development Minister Teh Cheang Wan said the Government is reconsidering its policy of allowing singles to buy HUDC flats. He said allocating one flat to an individual would be wasteful and that many singles wishing to live on their own is a “disturbing and undesirable trend”. Allowing singles to apply for HUDC flats would lead to the premature breakup of the family unit, he added

1981: The Government drops its plan to ban singles from purchasing HUDC flats but said that those under 40 years old would be placed on a waiting list until they form a family nucleus

1982: HDB takes over the management of HUDC flats


1991: Singles above 35 years old are able to buy resale HDB flats but limited to three-room flats at selected locations, announces then-Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong during that year’s National Day Rally

1998: CPF housing grants are extended to singles


2001: Singles are allowed to buy three-room HDB resale flats in central areas

2004: Singles are allowed to buy four- and five-room flats in any location, announces Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong


2013: Singles are allowed to purchase BTO flats directly from HDB, but limited to two-room units

2018: Divorcees are allowed to buy or own a subsidised flat immediately upon ending their marriage, without the three-year waiting period that applied under previous rules, subject to other eligibility requirements


2020: Unwed Singaporean single parents aged 21 and above who are in stable employment and able to afford a flat are permitted to buy from HDB a new two-room or three-room apartment in a non-mature public housing estate

2021: Low-income singles looking to get a rental flat need not find another flatmate before application under pilot scheme

[There is a social cost or social impact of these policies of course. Witness this tale of woe: "Why we no have babies." [Spoiler Alert: because Singles can't get housing.] And I'm sure you're curious about what happened to him (I don't know), but he wrote this as a rebuttal (of sorts). 

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