How Does Singapore’s Public Housing Compare to Other Nations?

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Remember the days when public housing in Singapore used to be affordable? Yeah, chances are most of you weren’t even born yet when the word “affordable” was last used to describe public housing. You can blame decades of skyrocketing property prices (public and private) for that.

True, having the world’s most expensive public housing sounds like a paradox. But with more than 80% of Singapore’s resident population living in public housing, it’s an irony that most of us just have to live with. But is public housing in Singapore really that different from other nations?

Here’s what we discovered about public housing in three other other nations:

1. The United States of America

See? Public housing in New York City doesn’t look that bad.

You’ve probably seen enough about U.S. public housing on television, cinema, and video games to assume that it’s hell on earth. True, public housing in some areas of the U.S. is as rundown and crime infested as a third-world slum.

But for the most part, living conditions for the 1.2 million families staying in public housing aren’t too different from those in Singapore. In fact, many public housing developments even have community centers that offer education courses, arts and crafts activities, and recreational activities for seniors.

Facts about Public Housing in the United States:

  • Purpose: To provide needs-based, government subsidized housing for low-income families, the elderly, and those with disabilities.
  • Tenancy Period: Indefinite as long as you comply with your lease agreement and your income remains at the qualifying limit.
  • Qualifying Income Limit: If you’re making only 50%-80% of the median income for a particular county or metropolitan area, you qualify for public housing.
  • Rent Calculation: Rent is calculated according to your ability to pay the highest of the following: 30% of your monthly adjusted income, 10% of your monthly adjusted income, your current welfare rent, or $50 USD ($63 SGD).
  • Monthly Payment: Varies, but if New York City is used as the benchmark, the average monthly rent is only $436 USD ($552 SGD) a month.

2. The Netherlands

Who would have thought public housing could be so cozy?

When you think of the Netherlands, what comes to mind? Windmills, dairy products, wooden shoes, THC-infused brownies, or maybe famous painters? One thing is for sure – you’re definitely NOT thinking about public housing.

In the Netherlands, 3 million households call public housing “home.” Of the public housing available, about 75% are owned by government subsidized housing associations that build neighborhood schools, maintain the homes and common areas, and appoint property caretakers and managers. In practice, they’re run similarly to Singapore’s town councils.

Facts about Public Housing in the Netherlands:

  • Purpose: To provide needs-based, government subsidized housing for low-income families, the elderly, and those with disabilities.
  • Tenancy Period: Fixed or indefinite, depending on the agreement reached with the landlord.
  • Qualifying Income Limit: Your annual income must not exceed €34,229 ($60,113 SGD) to qualify for public housing.
  • Rent Calculation: Rent is calculated on a points system based on the quality of housing. It takes into account room size, kitchen appliances, private restroom, etc., with more points equating to higher rent.
  • Monthly Payment: Varies, but public housing rent must not exceed €699.48 ($1,228 SGD).

 

3. Finland

1196688844_509f110330_bDespite the 40-year limit on usage for public housing, buildings in Finland are quite sturdy (no, they’re not assembled from IKEA housing kits).

Finland and Singapore are similar to Coke and Pepsi in that they are always being compared to each other, especially when it comes to education. But they share other similarities too – they both have a high cost of living, lack industrial resources (fossil fuels, iron, etc.), utilize national service, and have comparable populations.

When it comes to public housing, Finland has a government organization similar to Singapore’s Housing and Development Board (HDB) called the Housing Finance and Development Centre of Finland (ARA). The ARA provides housing loans or interest subsidized commercial loans of 80%-95% of building/plot costs to the following entities:

  • Finnish municipalities
  • Corporations that adhere to strict ARA preconditions and regulations
  • Limited liability companies directly owned by a Finnish municipality

These entities compete for housing loans to create residences that can be rented to tenants for a period of 40 years. These “borrowers,” usually Finnish municipalities, then select tenants based on their social and financial needs, with priority being given to the homeless. The ARA also limits the yield that borrowers can make from social housing at 8%.

Facts about Public Housing in Finland:

  • Purpose: To provide needs-based, government subsidized housing loans and subsidies for low-income families, the elderly, and those with disabilities. Priority is given to the homeless.
  • Tenancy Period: Fixed or up to the date that a residence can no longer be used for public housing (40 years or less), depending on your agreement with the Finnish municipality you’re living in.
  • Qualifying Income Limit: Varies according to the Finnish municipality, as the cost of living differs from city to city.
  • Rent Calculation: Rent is calculated based on the “cost coverage” principle, which calculates rent based on construction costs and rent limitations imposed by subsidy schemes.
  • Monthly Payment: Varies, but average public housing rent is about €10.75 per square meter. The average space for a single tenant is 34 square meters, which adds up to €365.50 ($642 SGD) before subsidies.

Final Note: The nations on this list provide government subsidized public housing on a rental basis. But in Singapore, you can “buy” your public housing flat. Well, that’s not entirely true – you can buy a 99-year “lease” on your flat.

Still, it’s the most affordable form of housing to the general public, even though it’s the most expensive public housing in the world. Most of us just accept the fact that public housing is expensive, regardless of income level.

But that doesn’t mean you have to spend any more money than you have to. If you’re looking to get your own HDB flat soon, visit Smartloans to get free home loan advice that’ll save you time and money.

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Image credit: The Guardian