In 1947, the British Housing Committee Report noted Singapore had one of the world’s worst slums - “a disgrace to a civilised community” and the average person-per-building density was 18.2 by 1947.

HDB is now widely-considered public housing at its best with more than 80% of Singapore’s population living in HDB, across 23 towns and 3 estates.

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Having completed more than 1 million flats and housed an entire nation, we believe there is more that we can do to build new-generation housing and smart, sustainable towns. We will continue to serve to the best of our abilities to create the best possible living environment where communities can thrive.

1 in 3 households lives in HDB 4-room flat, making it the most common housing in 2015.

HDB Dwellings80.1% HDB 1- and2-Room (5.6%) HDB 3-Room(18.2%) HDB 4-Room (32.0%) HDB 5-Room &Executive (24.1%) Condominiums andOther Apartments13.9% Landed Properties5.6% Others(0.3%)

Singapore's expertise in successful new town design was internationally recognised by the United Nation, and awarded the World Habitat Award to Tampines Town in 1992.

“HDB is not just a developer and master planner, we also play a social role.”

- Fong Chun Wah, HDB’s Group Director

Until the mid-1900s, much of the population lived in slums and squatter settlements, their makeshift homes reflecting their transient relationship with the migrant colony. Slum fires, however, forced them to move into flats. With the relocation to permanent housing, a sense of belonging grew.

The Singapore Improvement Trust (SIT) was set up in July 1927 to solve the serious housing shortage.

Many of the 23,000 flats it built were in areas such as Tiong Bahru and Old Airport Road.

SIT flats were designed for Singapore’s climate - high ceilings, large windows and open balconies were key features. Land scarcity was less of a concern, so these walk-up blocks tend to be under 10 storeys high.

Their design inspiration bear the distinctive curved forms of the Art Deco movement, which were popular during the 1920s and 1930s.

Housing Development Board (HDB) took over. Blocks 74 to 80 Commonwealth Drive were among the first public housing blocks built by the HDB.

The majority of public housing estates are self-contained communities with essential facilities to meet the residents’ basic needs, as well as various community amenities such as schools and recreational facilities. This philosophy remains true today.

Block 79 Toa Payoh Central

Other than offering various HDB models, changes in the interior design of HDB flats show they serve more than functional purposes.

HDB designed basic flat types, ranging from 1-room, to 2-room and 3-room flats to meet the urgent housing needs. The first 1-room flats of the early 1960s came with a variation of shared facilities such as toilets or kitchens.

Larger flats were introduced to meet the demand from growing families. The 5-room flats came with an additional en-suite toilet attached to the master bedroom, and also a store room.

Rising affluence meant that more were opting for larger flats, and 4-room flats became the most popular flat type. Bigger Executive flats and Executive Maisonettes catered to higher-income families were added to the range.

Executive Maisonnette

Service yards in the kitchens for larger flats were introduced to allow HDB dwellers to use an area away from the kitchen to hang their laundry, unaffected by kitchen fumes. A bomb shelter built for residents’ safety during emergency events was also seen in flats built from this decade.

HDB worked to reinvent the standard layout and design. New flats had full-height glass windows in living rooms, and clear zoning of living and dining areas from the bathrooms and kitchens.

Multi-generation flats and studio apartments are further variations introduced to meet different family and lifestyle needs.


New housing projects for a new generation gave room to even better designs. The Pinnacle at Duxton, Treelodge at Punggol, HDB’s 1st eco-precinct, Punggol Waterfront Housing and Dawson projects are landmark developments that combine stylish designs with environmentally-friendly features.

The unique conditions of HDB ownership that brought about its earlier success started causing problems in the last decade - strict eligibility conditions, 99-year leasehold policy, BTO waiting period, income ceiling criteria and property cooling measures from 2013.

Due to of these reasons, some people turn to buying more expensive resale HDB instead of BTO.

Because of the high resale price, buying a HDB no longer guarantees a “windfall” when you sell it. More and more people are also subletting their HDB flats.

The success of HDB is both its boon and bane. In recent years, HDB resale flats have crossed the million-dollar mark, with some saying that it is no longer affordable.

Are we near the end of affordable public housing?