Concerns are abuzz about future sizes of Housing Board (HDB) flats, but the National Development Minister is adamant that Singapore’s public housing will not shrink like its Hong Kong and Tokyo counterparts.
( HDB flat sizes change over the year. Image by user mailer_diablo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.)
In an attempt to quell the situation, Minister Khaw Boon Wan told The Straits Times that the government is committed “to maintain a good quality of life”, and while there are no current plans to change HDB sizes, any future changes would heavily depend on family sizes.
Khaw had previously addressed this topic during a Reach forum last month, when a member of the audience had asked him about flat sizes. Khaw responded that HDB design norms have not changed since 1997, sparking numerous debates online as well as on The Straits Times’ Forum page.
In a subsequent interview with the paper Khaw said, “My comment at that dialogue was in response to a question. I was purely stating that HDB plans [flat sizes] based on certain design norms, and as far as I know, it has not changed for the past 15 years.”
However, information released in a table by HDB last November revealed otherwise: flat sizes have certainly changed between the 1990s and 2000s.
HDB clarified that the table only showed the prevailing flat sizes of each decade; not when the sizes changed. The Board has since issued an updated table to The Straits Times that specifies when flat sizes were adjusted.
According to the updated table, four-room unit sizes have increased from 73 sq m in the 1970s to 105 sq m in the 1980s. The flat type then shrank to 100 sq m from 1990 to 1996 and further slid to 90 sq m from 1997 onwards. Simultaneously, household sizes for four-room flats fell from its 1970s figure of 6.5 to its current figure of 3.7.
Early this week, HDB reiterated that the flat sizes provided are only a reflection of the most common flat sizes for each period, and not representative of all flats under a certain type. “Some flats may be bigger or smaller, depending on a range of factors,” it said.
For instance, flats designed before the 1997 change and completed in the early 2000s tend to be bigger. Flats built under the Selective En Bloc Redevelopment Scheme (Sers) are typically larger as well. Under Sers, older HDB buildings are redeveloped to maximize land; new flats built are made the same size as original flats.
Meanwhile, Khaw said that the issue with flat sizes has to be put on hold until he has cleared the backlog of demand for flats.
Any future changes to flat designs would depend on household sizes, government resources and if there is a significant need. Said Khaw, “We have to look at household sizes […] maybe singlehood rates have gone up, [and if so] is there a need to have single people living in a flat that has expanded? But if [the] birth rate is going up and people are having a lot more children, then that is a different story.”
Speaking to The Straits Times, PropNex chief executive Mohamed Ismail said it is understandable for land-scarce Singapore to see smaller homes over time, noting the popularity of shoebox units in the private housing market.
Despite that, Ismail added that it was “natural for buyers to feel the squeeze”, since many have become accustomed to their parents’ more spacious homes built in the 1980s.
Still, he said, “As far as public housing is concerned, there is a responsibility to ensure decent-sized homes, comfortable enough to bring up families.”