Monday 28 November 2011

Maximising Singapore's limited land, Smaller households sizes = Shrinking HDB flats

Public's complaint: sizes of HDB flats are shrinking. Housing Board's reply: sizes of households are shrinking too
But some say smaller apartments do not square with needs of a developed nation
By Jessica Cheam, The Straits Times, 26 Nov 2011

THE average HDB flat has shrunk over the years, but this is due to the need to maximise Singapore's limited land and to adapt to changing household sizes, the Housing Board said yesterday.

Responding to queries from The Straits Times, it said that these needs meant sizes of each flat type had to be made slightly smaller over time, and the agency's architects have compensated by increasing the use of internal space through better flat layouts.

It added that HDB regularly reviews flat sizes, taking into account factors such as changes in demographic trends and lifestyle habits.

HDB's comments come after a debate erupted over earlier remarks made by its chief executive Cheong Koon Hean that smaller flats do not have to mean a lower quality of living.

She cited numbers which showed that although flat sizes are smaller, the number of people in an average household has also decreased, meaning living space per person for HDB residents has actually increased over time.

Her comments prompted Forum Page letters and Internet posts on websites such as government feedback portal Reach.

Retiree Paul Chan, 76, was one letter writer who felt that on the contrary, there are 'no compelling reasons to shrink the flat size down... and sacrifice quality of life'.

He lives in a landed property in River Valley today, but remembers his previous home, a four- room HDB flat in the 1980s, which boasted a size of 105 sq m, or 1,130 sq ft.

Today, four-room flats built by HDB have shrunk to about 90 sq m, or 969 sq ft - a size that he says is 'not enough for a high quality of life' for the average family. 'Does that mean future public flat sizes will be reduced further? HDB should reverse its policy,' he said.

The board yesterday cited figures that showed household sizes in HDB flats decreasing from 4.6 people in the 1980s to 3.4 today. It said that in the light of this and the need to use land more efficiently, it reduced flat sizes in the mid-1990s.

But living space per person improved to 26 sq m to 32 sq m for four- and five-room flats in new projects - up from the 23 sq m to 27 sq m for the same types of flats in the 1980s.

Urban planners The Straits Times spoke to acknowledged the difficulties faced by public housing architects in developed cities.

Architectural director Frven Lim of Surbana International Consultants said that as cities develop, planners are pressured to build at higher densities, which explains the small flat sizes in cities such as Hong Kong and Tokyo.

'Singaporeans have grown used to the unit sizes that HDB provided in the earlier decades, but the pace and density of construction is different now,' he said.

He pointed out that the introduction of compulsory bomb shelters in HDB flats in the 1990s posed some constraints on flat design, which could have made residents feel that their homes were 'more cramped'. But there are creative ways to design a flat to ensure that space is maximised, he added.

Property firm Dennis Wee Group director Chris Koh also highlighted that public homes are not the only ones shrinking - homes in the private property market have also decreased in size. In particular, shoebox units of 500 sq ft or smaller have emerged because developers want to keep the absolute price affordable even as per sq ft prices increase.

The size of the average private apartment has also fallen in the last decade or so, from about 1,500 sq ft to about 1,100 sq ft.

Surbana's Mr Lim noted that the private property market is driven by different dynamics and factors, and can be more flexible in offering a whole spectrum of home sizes - unlike government city planners who are under more constraints to maximise public land.

Consultant Yip Wai Hong, 67, still feels, however, that the shrinking flat size is 'out of sync with government efforts in reversing the falling birthrate'.

He added: 'Increasing affluence means that home owners want more, not less space.'

Echoing this, Mr Colin Tan, head of research and consultancy at Chesterton Suntec International, suggested Singapore's developed status means Singaporeans 'want to enjoy a better quality of life'.

'The need for privacy and space grows... To address land scarcity, HDB could build taller buildings to achieve a higher density without sacrificing unit size,' he said.


Why smaller isn't the way to go

BY MAKING flats smaller ('Sizes of HDB flats are shrinking'; last Saturday), the Housing Board is working against several government initiatives: encouraging married couples to have kids; encouraging children to live with their parents; and encouraging more women to return to the workforce.

Married couples will be hesitant to have more children if they have space constraints at home. With a more educated and affluent population, most parents will want to provide a good study environment for their children - with their own beds, study tables and some storage space.

Unfortunately, nowadays, parents are hardly able to put in a single bed and table in the same room. Things get more challenging when there is more than one child in the family.

We are not even taking into account the parents' need for their own study room, particularly when they are required to keep upgrading themselves to be employable in the market.

The 'sandwiched class' find themselves having to care for both their parents and their young ones. Living together may sometimes be more manageable for such households. But this can be done only if there is enough space in the flat for both grandparents and the young ones.

Working mothers may find it necessary to have a domestic helper to cope with both family and career demands. Reduced space means these working mothers may think twice about employing a helper. And even when they are hired, these helpers may end up having little private space, thereby denying them proper rest.

As forstay-at-home mothers, they may find it difficult to return to the workforce if they are not able to employ a helper due to space constraints.

I hope HDB will stop drawing comparisons between Singapore, Hong Kong and Japan. Each place is different. Perhaps we should just focus on what Singaporeans need for their lifestyle and for improving their quality of life.

Lim Wan Keng (Ms)
ST Forum, 29 Nov 2011

No comments:

Post a Comment