Moderne Housing Tiong Bahru
When a truly global history of 20th housing is ever written the Tiong Bahru Estate in Singapore, a charming mix of moderne housing and straights style shops, will sit there alongside Vienna’a Karl Marx Hoff and our own Hampstead Garden Suburb as one of global significance. Why is it important?
In the colonial period with concern about slums and poor housing conditions, often over 200 people would live in 1 shophouse.
Captain Edwin Percy Richards was recruited to the Singapore Improvement Trust, which adopted an enlightened model of public housing construction, on the english model of housing reformers with cheap housing built on land at existing use value.
But in typical English style it was slow. It built only 23,000 housing units in 23 years.
After independent it became the Housing Development Board, and construction boomed, but in the form of concrete ‘matchbox’ style block, but 110,000 units in only 10 years. Over 60% of all housing was constructed by the HDB. It is now effectively an arms length company, called Surbuna, and does masterplans and new communities construction all over the world.
What is important is how successful this model was seen, and how it was copied, first by Hong Kong and then 20 years ago by China.
With the state controlling development land it could capture uplifts in land value. Firstly houses are rented. Then there are opportunities to buy. A policy introduced in 1968 and copied by one MP for Finchley. The owners could then remortage and many used this as capital for small businesses. Hence an economic miracle largely driven by taking much rentier unearned income out of the picture.
When China was looking for an advisor to drive their market reforms the key consultant engaged by Deng Xiao Ping was Dr. Goh Kheng Swee who was the deputy prime minister of Singapore and one of the two persons who were behind Singapore’s rapid growth into a prosperous country, the other being Mr. Lee Kwan Yew.
Public housing on this model was one of his key suggested market reforms.
Such housing has been essential to driving China’s rapid urbanisation and growth. Indeed it can be argued that China moving away from this, to too much speculative housing, has driven a housing bubble. Indeed China has been using in the past year a new programme to build 10 million new public units, in one year, to rebalance the housing market.
There is a lesson here on how to divert rentier income to fuel tiger style growth, but it is not one that western psuedo-free marketeers want to heart.