Home Ownership: Cornerstone of Singapore’s Housing Policy


The following is the Introduction to the 16th Annual Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey, which rates housing affordability in more than 300 metropolitan markets in eight nations in the third quarter of 2019. This Introduction relies on Internet and academic sources and information from the Housing and Development Board (HDB) of Singapore.




Over the six decades since Singapore achieved its independence, it has transitioned from a comparatively poor nation to one of the most affluent in the world. In 1960, Singapore’s gross domestic product per capita was one-seventh that of the United States, according to the Maddison Historical Statistics. Today, according to the World Bank, Singapore’s GDP per capita is third highest among world sovereign nations (only Qatar and Luxembourg are higher), and obviously higher than that of any nation covered by the Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey. Singapore’s enabling of broad home ownership has been an important element in its economic advance.

Present at the Creation: Singapore’s Housing Crisis

In 1960, the new nation faced a dire housing situation. Most households lived in “unhygienic slums and crowded squatter settlements.” According to the1947 British Colony of Singapore government Housing Committee Report, Singapore had one of the world’s worst slums, calling it “a disgrace to a civilized community.” Solving the problem would be a daunting task.

Singapore’s Unequaled Housing Challenge

No major metropolitan area in the high-income world faces the housing affordability challenge of Singapore. Singapore’s six million people live on a fully developed island nation so small that it could fit into one-half of Tokyo Bay. As a result, Singapore lacks the “supply vent” of low-cost suburban or exurban land that moderates house prices across an urban area. Further, Singapore is by far the most densely populated sovereign nation outside the microstate of Monaco. Indeed, Singapore is approximately 75 percent as dense as the core city of New York and 50 percent more dense than London (GLA).

Singapore’s topographics and international barriers constitute, in effect, a rigid and inflexible urban containment boundary. Nature and international boundaries preclude its elimination or reform.

Inside an urban containment boundary, effective land management is necessary to maintain housing affordability, because demand tends to exceed supply. Singapore has effectively managed its scarce land supply and established a market that produces middle-income housing affordability. According to the 2018 UBS Global Real Estate Bubble Index, “there has been no difference between house price and income growth in Singapore over the last 30 years.”

This contrasts with the most severely unaffordable markets in, for example, Australia, Canada and the United States, where middle-income households have been largely priced out of the median price housing by spiraling cost increases. This is despite their plentiful supplies of developable land. (Sections 3.1, 3.2, 3.8 and 4).

Prioritizing Home Ownership and Housing Affordability

Singapore established the Housing and Development Board (HDB) in 1960 to solve the problem. In the early years, HDB focused on producing rental housing. This was and remains the emphasis of many subsidized low-income housing programs around the world. But the HDB vision was not confined to subsidized housing. The 1964 HDB Annual Report expressed the intention to:

...encourage a property-owning democracy in Singapore and to enable Singapore citizens in the lower middle income group to own their own homes

HDB has viewed home ownership as important to maintaining social
stability and building neighbourhoods. Home ownership was also favoured because it encouraged a work ethic among households, which was necessary to save for and maintain their homes. Singapore considers home ownership as the “cornerstone” of the HDB program.

Continue reading at: http://demographia.com/dhi16-intro.pdf

Photograph: Singapore Central Business District. Source: Creative Commons, via Wikimedia


Wendell Cox is principal of Demographia (St. Louis, MO-IL), an international public policy firm. Hugh Pavletich operates the archival website Performance Urban Planning and is the Managing Director of Pavletich Properties Ltd, a commercial property development and investment company in Christchurch, New Zealand. They have co-authored each of the 16 annual surveys.