Over the last three days in Singapore, we’ve visited 7 corporations and government agencies and have been immersed in Singaporean cultural and civic lessons. This city-state that gained its independence a mere 60 years ago from Malaysia and became a melting pot of cultures from all over Asia, advancing technologically and socially at a rapid pace.
During our visit here, Singapore struck me as a utopia of sorts. This view is shaped by the city-state’s impressive strategy around public housing. When the Housing Development Board (HDB) was formed in the 1960s as a component of the new independent government of Singapore, then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew had a view for citizens: home ownership for all, despite socioeconomic status, to give them a stake in the country. Not only was his vision to encourage home ownership, but to make it affordable enough that homelessness and squatter living would cease to exist as a pervasive problem.
A shocking 85% of the Singaporean population now lives in public housing, which is either purchased or rented from the HDB. Public housing in Singapore is of very high quality and features attractive and varied floor plans. Such a development, the Pinnacle@Duxton, is pictured below.
Most interestingly, it’s a social engineering experiment. In order to foster racial harmony, the Singaporean government (and by extension, the HDB), mandates that each floor in a public housing development be racially integrated. Families of the same nationality cannot live next door to each other. Neighbors must be of different nationalities. (Largely, the mix is South Indian, Malay, Chinese, Singaporean and others who are permanent residents.)
Housing is heavily subsidized by the government for families and couples. Singles aren’t permitted to rent or purchase public housing until age 35 since the Singaporean government strives to encourage marriage and family formation given the anemic birth rate. Low income families are not denied high-grade housing and their rent is heavily subsidized based upon their income. They can rent for as little as $52 USD per month. This policy justifies the low (almost 0%!) homelessness rate in Singapore.
It’s also interesting to note that apartment sales are leasehold, meaning the owners “own” the apartment for 99 years after which the apartment reverts back to the government for restoration and resale.
Our visit to Singapore ended with an alumni reception at Spago hosted by Morgan Stanley at the Marina Bay Sands Hotel. A breathtaking view of the bay surrounded us as we gathered with alumni and newly admitted students. It couldn’t have been a more perfect conclusion to our stint in Singapore.
I am so amazed at how far this city-state has come in 60 years of autonomy and development and I’m so intrigued by what they’ll accomplish in subsequent years.
And now, off to China!
Nicole Atoyan ’17