HDB flats are known as Housing Development Board flats, a form of subsidised housing to make owning a home for Singaporeans affordable. In the 1970s a 3 room flat cost $17,000 and a graduate's starting pay was $1000. Today, the starting price of a 3 room flat has gone up to $200,000 and a graduate's is just $3000.
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HDB flats with varied designs for both the interior and exterior is truly one of Singapore's unique flavour which I adore. They're even constantly sprucing the HDB flats up by installing new tiles, concretes and even extra elevators!
However, the flaws for several HDB flats are rather apparent. One such flaw could be seen by how my HDB flat is located miles away from the bus stop. They should relocate the bus stop to somewhere that is more convenient! I just bathed but I was instantly doused by a new form of shower; sweat. The sweat threatened to eliminate the aroma derived from the perfume that I puffed all over my apparels previously. My clothes that rubbed against my skin itched. I was partially exhausted from the speed walking fiesta to the bus stop. Who knew the journey towards a bus stop could be such a chore?
paying to suffer. just... no.
I swear the walls of the HDB flats cannot get any thinner. Some even say the constructors stuff cardboard within the walls to fill them up; it isn’t true but I believe this rumour came about as a joke for the thinness of the walls. There are problems abound and I can just go on and on about them. The ceiling paint comes off easily, water leakage from the flat above, smokers all around, hooligans at the void deck being a public nuisance, and of course, the absurd property prices.
There are tables at the void decks for the residents to use, but apparently those teenagers who have nothing better to do always occupy them and make as much noise as possible, as if they were paid to do so. They spend their day there and leave their food behind, creating a whole lot of mess and attracting pests, and disturb the peacefulness of the neighbourhood by disrupting the residents trying to sleep and concentrating on their work. The police usually have to be called in to ‘tame’ them.
Oh and smokers. Don’t get me wrong; I have nothing against smokers, but I do have something against the act of smoking. Smokers have nowhere else to smoke but at home, because there are many places in which smoking is prohibited by law (not that these smokers abide by the law anyway), so they smoke at home. The smoke ends up entering neighbouring houses and it is trapped inside the house because there isn’t any ventilation – the smoke enters the windows from all sides and there is no other way for the smoke to exit.
Last but not least – all these, for so much? The price of one HDB apartment can buy you a plot of land elsewhere. This is ridiculous – paying to suffer. Oh well, I guess this is the life of a Singaporean.
The best place to discover what makes us Singaporean
Whenever I host foreign students in Singapore, one of their first questions (apart from questions about Singapore's legal system) would definitely be on my experience staying in a HDB flat.
Of course, this question had always left me at a loss for words - after all, having grown up in a HDB flat since young, it had become such a normal affair that it surprised me that anyone would take interest in it. It was only after I had spoken to more people who had never had the experience of staying in a HDB flat that I discovered how rich an experience it actually was.
One thing I realised about HDB estates is that they're probably the easiest places to be immersed in the local culture and observe the Singaporean identity - more so than at a shopping centre or walkng down the street. With the close proximity of different housing units and the abundance of common spaces such as the void deck, lifts, coffee shops and the good old mama shop selling everything you'd ever need, HDB estates are teeming with activity and a much higher level of interaction than at most private estates or public spaces. Somehow, with the familiarity of environment, most locals also seem most at home in their own estate, speaking, working and acting in a much less inhibited way.
My fondest memories of growing up in a HDB estate were probably the festive seasons. With the ethnic quota in all housing estates, it is common to have neighbours from different racial backgrounds living together in the same block, and whenever it was the festive season, there would always be an interesting and colourful exchange of cultures.
While a wide diversity of people living in close proximity to each other definitely meant that some occasional conflicts were inevitable, and there were certainly times when it was difficult to get our own privacy (especially when neighbour's kids would sometimes make prank visits to our place), it was precisely these things which strengthened our ties and trained us to step out of our comfort zone in relating to others, instead of hiding in our own shells all the time.
Though there are common complaints about living in a HDB flat, such as the constrained space and issues with neighbours, I would say that the HDB experience is one that we locals often take for granted. It is certainly a vibrant experience that shapes our collective and individual identities, and defines the Singaporean culture.
Why I Love My HDB Flat
Many years ago, my hubby and I bought our first and only HDB flat in a suburban area because we didn't have much money. I have lived in this HDB apartment very comfortably for more than 10 years and till now, have no intention to move, even though some of my friends have upgraded to private condominiums.
Here are some reasons why I stay put in my HDB home and refuse to upgrade to a private condominium:
Firstly, it's a 'been-there-done-that' issue. I lived in a private property when I was very young. To me, the comfort level living in a private property is the same as that living in an HDB flat. Of course, I have to do without some perks like having a swimming pool, tennis courts, gym, and so on, but I find these facilities not of much use. I hardly use them because I'd rather go to a fitness centre and use their better maintained equipment. However, there is one useful advantage in living in a private condo, and that is in having a security system, like CCTVs, access cards and security guards.
Secondly, I bought my HDB flat cheap, and HDB flats in general are priced lower than private condos. It takes lesser time to pay off the mortgage for an HDB flat than for a private condo. To me, freedom from loans is more important than the prestige of owning a private property. Furthermore, upgrading to a private condo incurs additional costs like higher property taxes, higher maintenance charges and higher insurance premiums.
Lastly, what many have not thought of: HDB flats are protected from creditors. In the event the HDB home owner is unable to pay off his debts, the creditors cannot force him to sell off his home. The law protects the HDB home owner in this manner to ensure that he and his family members will continue to have a roof over their heads in the event of financial distress. On the other hand, a person needing a large sum of money for investment or business purpose cannot use his HDB flat as a collateral to borrow more funds from banks.
Because of the comfort level, lower cost, and protection from creditors, I very much prefer living in my HDB home than in the most prestigious private property.
Never a easy problem to solve
On a recent trip to Hong Kong, I couldn't help but overhear a conversation regarding property in Singapore and Hong Kong. The conversation was between a property agent and his client at a local café and both were in envy of the well-organized and well-managed public housing market in Singapore. They were talking about how public housing in Singapore costs approximately half the price than in Hong Kong but have a land area almost 2 times the size.
This then leaves me to think, given the similarity in the population densities of this 2 cities, our public housing woes could have been very much worst if not for the planning of HDB. Unlike in Hong Kong and a number of other populous Chinese cities, most new couples here don’t have to resort to renting to get a roof over their heads.
Safe and higher quality of life, aside from the price hikes
HDB flats are a solution to many issues like overpopulation, better hygiene and standard of living. Moving away from the past Kampong styles, there are both pros and cons about living in HDBs.
The creation of HDBs destroys a part of Singapore culture, the Kampongs and the “Kampong spirit”, but at the same time created a brand new image of Singapore. One most obvious downside are the loss of Kampong close knitted relations, loss of a memorable part of Singapore and loss of potential childhood playgrounds. But these losses are inevitable in order to push development. At the same time, it solved many pressing issues such as needs for advancement, better health and space constraints.
Personally I feel rather sad to be not able to see or experience the life that my parents had. But ultimately, this is part of being a Singaporean and I’m glad to be able to stay in such a safe environment, aside from the price hikes of course.
A genius idea which is getting too pricy
Building these tall buildings with a multitude of apartments of different sizes for different people and families, with each being affordable and the building being maintained by HDB was a genius idea to safe land space, while giving affordable, spacious and comfortable houses for people to stay in.
In my opinion, the older flats built before 2003 did deliver all that, but the size of the newer flats are shrinking, the prices are rocketing beyond anyone's expectations and simple things like a balcony and spacious living areas in flats are becoming extinct. No doubt the quality of the buildings has improved, but the prices really do not befit the small houses in these flats.
I love living in a HDB neighbourhood, it is neither too noisy or quiet, and the flat which I stay in is spacious and comfortable, but I doubt I can afford a flat of the same quality even if a flat of such quality is even built in the future.
Living here all my life
I've lived in HBD flats all my life and I love it. HBD flats may not have the luxurious facilities that condominiums or other types of housing may have, but they defintiely provide a rustic, peaceful feel. The area that I live in, Bukit Batok, offers a mood of simple serenity. Being located near the heartland mall of west mall means supplies are easy to get. I usually go down to the park to run or to the badminton court to play sports. These simple public facilities are made to withstand and if you go down at the right time, the air is pure and clean. Wonderful.
That said, some disadvantages include the lack of training facilities. (Eg: gyms, swimming pools) and the lack of private space. The elkevators in my area are super slow, which frustrates me. Other than that, HBD is my comfort zone.
Housing, Singapore style
HDB flats are overpriced. That is an indisputable fact. Pegging the price of affordable public housing to unaffordable private luxuries seems like a tip right out of the Dictator-for-Dummies series.
However, HDB flats has also become one of Singapore's icons. Looking down from a plane, there is no other country that looks even remotely like Singapore, with rows upon rows of vertical, rectangular blocks in a sea of green. Even media as diverse as Namewee, a rap singer from Malaysia, made reference to it when he taunted us on the uniformity of HDB flats in one of his songs.
Despite exorbitant prices, living in a HDB flat sure beats the slums of public housing in other countries. We have all the facilities like basketball courts, fitness corners, parks, markets, coffeeshops, etc, most within walking distance from our doorstep. In addition, our town councils are forever trying to please us by revamping this and renovating that. The landscaping around my block has changed no less than 3 times in 2 years, when the first design isn't killing anyone anyway.
I've seen the way many people is living around the world and all things considered, I would say that we're living pretty pampered lives in HDB estates. Hence, I'd really love to add that what we are paying for our flats is justifiable, but the murderous prices just makes this statement impossible. One can only hope the latest cooling measures on the private market will lower the cost of our public housing significantly.
Owning a air-space in Singapore
Other than the rising prices of HDB apartments and the fact that each apartment gets smaller than the previous, I think that the idea of HDB is a brilliant one as Singapore has such limited landspace and it is almost impossible for all Singaporeans to own a plot of land in Singapore. Because of this idea, everyone in Singapore have a roof, or rather, share a roof over their heads.
HDB apartments also increase the activities between neighbours as the tendency for them to pass by each other is higher. My neighbours and I would greet each other when we pass by each other and this makes it easy for all to live together harmoniously. Apartments are not as common in other countries, and it is definitely interesting when I jokingly tell my friends from other countries that I own an air-space in Singapore!