Published 23 March 2011
When he took office in 1959, then-Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew noted homes in fast-growing Asian cities comprised of small rooms which came with high rentals. “Therefore, they decorated their cars as if they were their homes. But these additions have no lasting value,” he said.
With that in mind, Mr Lee and the Government embarked on making Singapore a home-owning society and home ownership a fundamental policy. By the 1980s – and in “a short time” – the Government had housed 85 per cent of the population.
“If we had not helped our citizens to own their homes, Singapore would be very different,” said Mr Lee, who is now Minister Mentor. “Society would not be so stable. Our lives would have been worse off. They have valuable assets in their homes to protect against riots and civil commotion.”
Mr Lee made these remarks on home ownership – which is expected to dominate the hustings during the coming elections – during Saturday’s launch of the Tanjong Pagar Town Council’s five-year masterplan and ABC Waters at Alexandra Canal. The full speech was made available yesterday.
Mr Lee reiterated that home ownership gives every Singaporean “a sense of ownership”.
“Our families own their homes and are rooted to Singapore … Moreover, with National Service, every family must have a stake in a property to defend,” he added.
As Singaporeans take great pride in their homes, Mr Lee said, “it is crucial to prevent our estates from becoming urban slums”.
“As Singapore prospers, the value of their HDB homes also appreciate. Home ownership motivates Singaporeans to work hard and to aspire for a better future for their family, to upgrade to better and bigger flats,” he added.
While the Government has met Singaporeans’ basic needs, it has to “meet the rising aspirations” too, said Mr Lee, as he traced the “HDB story” which reflects Singaporeans’ social mobility.
Mr Lee noted that as younger families began moving out of the older HDB towns, for newer and more modern flats in the late 1980s, the Government introduced the HDB Upgrading Programme – providing new playgrounds, covered linkways, landscaped gardens and open spaces for residents to mingle.
In 1995, the HDB launched the Selective En Bloc Redevelopment Scheme, or SERS, to free up land in the older estates, and to replace them with higher-quality, higher-density flats.
In 2001, with an ageing population, the Government implemented the Lift Upgrading Programme.
“We are near the final phase of its completion, and works will complete by 2014,” Mr Lee noted.
The Minister Mentor stressed public housing cannot be allowed to become obsolete. Which is why HDB embarked in 2007 on its plan to rejuvenate the housing estates – starting with the pilot towns and estates in Punggol, Yishun and Dawson. Towns in Hougang, East Coast and the Jurong Lake areas will soon follow.
By next year, the Government will be laying out the next generation nationwide broadband network “so that everybody will have easy access to the computer, to all information that they will require, and they can video-conference with each other and with families abroad”, said Mr Lee.
But Mr Lee stressed: “We must build upon the strong foundation laid; continue to work hard, and share the fruits of our nation’s progress.”