Friday, 14 February 2014

50 years of home ownership

'No easy start' for leaders behind housing scheme
Khaw pays tribute to pioneers who got it going 50 years ago
By Janice Heng And Rachel Au-Yong, The Straits Times, 13 Feb 2014

SINGAPORE'S home ownership scheme turned 50 years old yesterday - an occasion which National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan marked by paying tribute to pioneer leaders who got the scheme off the ground.

"Former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew envisioned making Singapore a nation of home owners," he wrote on his blog. "Many pioneers such as then National Development Minister Lim Kim San helped turn his vision into reality."

But these pioneer leaders did not have an easy start.

Singapore had few reserves and faced a post-war baby boom and high unemployment.

Indeed, "there were many sceptics" when the home ownership scheme was launched on Feb 12, 1964, Mr Khaw quoted Mr Lee as recalling at the 2009 handover ceremony of the Pinnacle@Duxton - the cutting-edge, 50-storey testament to the pioneers' success.

Looking back on the Housing Board's Home Ownership for the People Scheme, as it was called back then, Mr Khaw said: "As we mark 50 years of home ownership, let us remember our pioneers who made it possible."

In his blog, he included a link to a 1988 TV documentary episode by the Singapore Broadcasting Corp (now MediaCorp), Homes For Our People, hoping it would "reignite some nostalgia and remind us how far we have come".

One who has seen the rise of home ownership at close hand is Mr Tan Chong Hock, 63, who has been with the HDB for 37 years. "In the 1970s and 80s, there wasn't much public interest in a flat," the senior estate manager recalled.

Instead, a challenge he faced then was dealing with kampung dwellers who were being resettled into the flats.

The resettlers "tended to have more questions and seemed to be scared to sign their documents, partly because they didn't understand - many of them spoke in dialect", he said.

Later, public demand picked up. Principal estate manager Lim Kok Chun remembers his busy early years with the HDB, in the late 1990s: "On each morning, I would have at least three appointments with buyers and sellers - my record was five before lunch."

But the effects of the 1997 Asian financial crisis were felt by the early 2000s, leaving the HDB with more than 30,000 unsold flats which Mr Lim and colleagues "went town by town to pitch".

Even as demands and needs have changed, however, some principles have not.

Flat designs have always been ahead of the times. Early estates such as Toa Payoh and Queenstown may seem basic now but "were considered very progressive in their time" as the flats had long corridors and flush toilets, said Mr Khaw.

And designs continue to be "forward-looking", with all new Build-To-Order projects starting this year to have eco-features such as energy- saving lighting in common areas.

But more important than hardware is heartware, he added. HDB estates are where Singaporeans build homes, start families and forge bonds.

"Today, home ownership remains our key social pillar.

"It gives Singaporeans a tangible stake in our country, financial security, and a critical sense of belonging," he wrote.

And, 50 years on, it remains close to the hearts of Singaporeans. In the Government's Our Singapore Conversation feedback exercise last year, 97 per cent of Singaporeans said home ownership was still important to them.

"The core purpose (of) housing the nation remains the same," Mr Khaw wrote. "(The HDB) will continue to help Singaporeans realise their dreams of owning a home."

From renting flats to owning one
By Janice Heng, The Straits Times, 13 Feb 2014

BORN in 1959, Mr Roger Ng grew up in a succession of Housing Board rental flats. But he always believed that one day, he would get a flat of his own.

"It is important to own your own home," said the 54-year-old, who got his first flat, a three-room unit in Yishun, in 1985. He has since upgraded to a four-room flat in Woodlands.

"You don't need to pay any rent. It is yours."

Mr Ng, a supervisor in a company distributing testing materials, is one of the many Singaporeans who have made the journey to home ownership since the Housing Board launched the scheme 50 years ago.

When he was barely two years old, the squatter huts of Bukit Ho Swee, where his family lived, were razed in the fire of 1961, which destroyed more than 2,200 attap houses. The family moved to an emergency flat built by the Government.

In 1968, they moved to a one-room flat in nearby Indus Road. But they uprooted soon after to a two-room flat in Queen's Crescent estate. Each one was a rental flat.

His parents never talked about buying their own place, said Mr Ng. "It wasn't seen as the standard thing." And as a seaman, his father had no Central Provident Fund savings to help pay for a flat.

But in 1981, newly married Mr Ng applied for a flat with his wife. In 1985, along with their four-year-old son, they moved into a three-room flat in Yishun.

"We were very excited."

A decade and two more children later, the flat began to seem crowded. "There was no space - they were all growing up," said Mr Ng. So in 1995, they moved to a new four-room flat in Woodlands. Some years later, Mr Ng's parents moved in too.

His father passed away last year. Today, Mr Ng still lives in that flat with his mother, his wife, and their eldest son. His other children have found their own HDB homes. For them, home ownership is a given - a far cry from the days when Mr Ng's parents started a family.

Mr Ng's daughter Ng Shijin, 30, is living with her husband and in-laws while their Build-To-Order flat is being completed. After getting married in 2009, youngest son Ng Jun Tai, 27, finally moved into his BTO unit - just a few blocks from his father's - last month.

Mr Ng is glad his children have the chance to get a place of their own. He said: "I think it's right to start a family when you have your own home."

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