Housing and Development Board

Singapore Infopedia


The Housing and Development Board (HDB) is the national public housing authority of Singapore. It was formed in February 1960, shortly after Singapore attained self-government, to alleviate the severe housing shortage at the time.Over the years, the emphasis of its housing programmes has shifted from quantity of housing to quality of life. Since 1985, over 80 percent of Singapore’s resident population has lived in HDB flats.2

HDB succeeded the Singapore Improvement Trust with the task of providing adequate housing for the people.3 The trust was established in 1927 by the colonial government and charged with responsibilities such as carrying out improvement works, condemning insanitary buildings and rehousing people rendered homeless as a result of improvement works. It began building flats from the 1930s onwards after the colonial government vested it with the powers, albeit limited, to do so in 1930.4 By the time HDB replaced the Improvement Trust in 1960, the housing problem had worsened significantly, as its building programmes had fallen far short of what was required to keep pace with the fast-growing population.5

The first step towards the formation of HDB was taken in August 1958 with the introduction of the Housing and Development Bill and the Planning Bill. The bills were passed by the Legislative Council in January 1959 and came into effect on 1 February 1960, whereupon the HDB was established as Singapore’s housing authority, with the dissolution of the Singapore Improvement Trust on 31 January. The HDB’s primary function was to build and manage housing units for the low-income groups, and it had to create as much housing as quickly and cheaply as possible.6

In 1965, the HDB completed its first five-year building programme, with 54,430 units built since its inauguration.7 The following year, HDB declared that it had resolved the housing problem.8 By the end of 1970, 36 percent of the total population was living in HDB flats. As a result of HDB’s sustained effort, by 1989 more than 80 percent of Singapore’s resident population was living in its flats.9

Primary functions
Since its inception, HDB’s main task has been to build and manage public housing. Besides residential units, it also provided facilities in the housing estates such as kindergartens, community halls, homes for the aged and recreational grounds.10 Over the years, the nature of its role as the provider of public housing in Singapore has changed. To adapt to the changing needs and expectations of the population, the HDB has introduced new housing schemes to suit not only nuclear families, but also singles, the elderly and multigenerational families.11

Sale of flats
Initially, the HDB built flats only for rental, but in 1964 it began selling flats under a homeownership scheme. In 1968, the government implemented another scheme to allow buyers to use their Central Provident Fund accounts to finance their purchase of HDB flats, so that they do not have to rely solely on their take-home income. Together, the two schemes have steadily raised the HDB homeownership rate. As of 2022, around 90 percent of HDB residents owned their flats.12 To help married couples purchase their first HDB flat, HDB gives a housing grant to subsidise their purchase of a flat from the resale market and an additional grant for those who choose to live near their parents.13

HDB has also been easing its eligibility conditions to give more people a chance at homeownership. For example, the citizenship criterion was relaxed in 1989 to allow Singapore permanent residents to own HDB flats. One of the most significant changes is the revision of the policy on singles. In 1991, it was announced that single citizens who were at least 35 years old could purchase HDB flats on their own, though they were limited to only three-room or smaller resale flats outside the central area. The HDB housing options for singles were progressively expanded such that by 2013, eligible singles could purchase resale flats in any location and new two-room flats directly from HDB in non-central areas.14 From the second half of 2024, singles can purchase new two-room flats in any location.15

In 2001, HDB launched the build-to-order (BTO) system of selling new flats in non-mature estates as an alternative to the Registration for Flats System. Under the BTO system, applications are invited for the flats to be built on the proposed sites and construction only begins if most of the units are booked. This system thus allows HDB to increase or reduce its supply of flats according to demand.16 The Registration for Flats System was suspended in 2002, and the BTO system is now the main mode of sale for new flats.17

Types of flats
During its first decade of operation, HDB built only one- to four-room flats. Five-room flats were then introduced in the 1970s, followed by executive apartments and maisonettes in the 1980s in response to the demand for bigger flats.8 

Executive condominiums were introduced in 1995 to bridge the gap between HDB flats and private condominiums. These units offer private-condominium living but at lower prices, even though they are built and sold by private developers.19

Like the executive condominiums, the Design, Build and Sell Scheme (DBSS) introduced in 2005 also involves private developers, who buy the sites, designed the flats with innovative design and features, and sold them.20 However DBSS flats do not come with facilities like swimming pools.21 This scheme was suspended in 2011.22

To promote intergenerational living under one roof, HDB launched 3Gen flats in 2013. Such flats have four bedrooms and three bathrooms, as they are created for married couples living with their parents.23

Public housing options for elderly residents were introduced with the launch of studio apartments in 1997. Smaller than three-room flats, these homes are partially furnished and fitted with elderly-friendly features such as emergency pull cords linked to an alert system.24 In 2015, the Studio Apartment scheme was merged with the 2-room flat scheme, and replaced by a new 2-room Flexi Scheme to provide more diverse housing options for different buyers.25 To better cater to an ageing population, Community Care Apartments are equipped with fittings such as grab bars and anti-slip floors, and services like health checks and basic home repairs. The first of these apartments are expected to be completed in 2024.26

Estate renewal strategy
The Main Upgrading Programme launched in 1990 was the HDB’s first estate renewal programme. Under this scheme, improvement works are carried out within the flat and at the block and precinct levels. In 1995, HDB introduced the Estate Renewal Strategy – a comprehensive and coordinated approach to upgrading programmes – and the Selective En-bloc Redevelopment Scheme. The latter involves the demolition of entire blocks for redevelopment. Smaller-scale upgrading programmes have also been developed, such as the Home Improvement Programme launched in 2007 that targets common maintenance problems within the flat such as spalling concrete and ceiling leaks.27


Valerie Chew

1. Augustine H. H. Tan and Sock-Yong Phang, The Singapore Experience in Public Housing (Singapore: Times Academic Press, 1992), 11. (Call no. RSING 363.585095957 TAN)

2. Aline K. Wong and Stephen H. K. Yeh, eds., Housing a Nation: 25 Years of Public Housing in Singapore (Singapore: Maruzen Asia for HDB, 1985), 3. (Call no. RSING 363.5095957 HOU)
3. Housing and Development Board, Annual Report of the Housing and Development Board (Singapore: Housing and Development Board, 1960–63), 1–5. (Call no. RSING 711.4095957 SIN-[AR])
4. J. M. Fraser, The Work of the Singapore Improvement Trust 1927–1947 (Singapore: Authority of Singapore Improvement Trust, 1948), 5–7, 10 (Call no. RCLOS 711.4095951 SIN-[RFL]); Straits Settlements, An Ordinance to Amend the Singapore Improvement Ordinance 1927 (No. 13 of 1930), Ordinances Enacted by the Governor of the Straits Settlements with the Advice and Consent of the Legislative Council Thereof in the Year 1930 (Singapore: n.p., 1930), 52 (Call no. RCLOS 348.5957 SGGAS-[RFL]); Report of the Housing Committee, Singapore, 1947 (Singapore: Government Printing Office, 1948), 9.
5. Housing and Development Board, Annual Report of the Housing and Development Board, 1–5.
6. Housing and Development Board, Annual Report of the Housing and Development Board, 13.
7. Housing and Development Board, Annual Report of the Housing and Development Board (Singapore: HDB, 1965), 10. (Call no. RSING 711.4095957 SIN-[AR])
8. “Men Who Served S’pore Well Get Their Awards,” Straits Times, 17 March 1963, 8. (From NewspaperSG)
9. Tan and Phang, Singapore Experience in Public Housing, 11.
10. Housing and Development Board, Annual Report of the Housing and Development Board (Singapore: Housing and Development Board, 1978–79), 7. (Call no. RSING 711.4095957 SIN-[AR])
11. “Public Housing – A Singapore Icon,” Housing and Development Board, updated 24 July 2020. (From NLB’s Web Archive Singapore)
12. Wong and Yeh, Housing a Nation, 12; Housing and Development Board, “Public Housing – A Singapore Icon.”
13. Housing and Development Board, “Public Housing – A Singapore Icon.”
14. Housing and Development Board, “Public Housing – A Singapore Icon”; “Singles Above 35 May Buy HDB Flats on Their Own,” Straits Times, 18 October 1991, 2; “3-Room Urban Flats Now for Singles Too,” Straits Times, 28 August 2001, 1; “New HDB Deal for Singles,” Straits Times, 1 September 2004, 1 (From NewspaperSG); “NDR 2023: Timeline of Public Housing Options for Singles through the Years,” Today, 20 August 2023. (From Factiva via NLB’s eResources website).
15. “NDR 2023: Timeline of Public Housing Options for Singles through the Years.”
16. “Get Ready for the Where-when-what Flats,” Today, 22 March 2001, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
17. “HDB Scraps Queue System for Its Flats,” Straits Times, 19 May 2002, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
18. Wong and Yeh, Housing a Nation, 58–66. (Call no. RSING 363.5095957 HOU)
19. “Executive Condos Bridge Gap between Public, Private Housing,” Straits Times, 10 June 1996, 38. (From NewspaperSG)
20. “Milestones,” Business Times, 24 May 2007, 50 (From NewspaperSG); “Overview,” Housing and Development Board, updated 6 October 2006 (From NLB’s Web Archive Singapore); “Two DBSS units at The Peak @ Toa Payoh resold for over S$1m,” Today, 1 August 2017. (From Factiva via NLB’s eResources website)
21. “An EC Choice to Make,” Straits Times, 7 September 20011, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
22. “DBSS Land Sales Suspended as Scheme Being Reviewed: Khaw,” Business Times, 5 July 2011, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
23. “New Three-generation Flats to be Launched Next Month,” Straits Times, 28 August 2013, 6. (From NewspaperSG)
24. “HDB to Sell Studio Flats for the Elderly,” Straits Times, 6 November 1997, 1. (From NewspaperSG).
25. “Joint Press Release by MND & HDB - Two-Room Flexi Scheme – Meeting Diverse Housing Needs,” Housing and Development Board, published 19 August 2015. (From NLB’s Web Archive Singapore)
26. “New Community Care Apartments for Seniors in Bukit Batok to Offer Elder-friendly Features, Services,” Today, 10 December 2020 (From Factiva via NLB’s eResources website); “HDB Launches More than 3,700 BTO Flats, Including First Community Care Apartments for the Elderly,” Channel NewsAsia, 4 February 2021. (From Factiva via NLB’s eResources website).
27. “Govt to Go Ahead with Plans for Toa Payoh,” Straits Times, 3 November 1995, 1 (From NewspaperSG); Housing and Development Board, “Public Housing – A Singapore Icon.”

The information in this article is valid as of November 2023 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

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