Speech by Minister Desmond Lee at the HDB Awards Ceremony 2021

Oct 20, 2021

Good morning. I am glad to join you for this year’s HDB Awards.

Current Situation

Let me start by congratulating all the 2020 and 2021 winners of the HDB Design, Construction and Engineering Awards. Thank you for continuing to partner HDB closely in developing and delivering well-designed, quality homes for Singaporeans.

Your partnership has been especially valuable amid the challenges brought by the COVID-19 pandemic. The construction industry has been hit hard by manpower shortages, productivity slowdowns, and supply disruptions, due to the various safe management measures and border controls that were needed to protect public health.

The Government has provided strong support for the sector, in terms of financial assistance, adjustments in rules and regulations, and legal frameworks to facilitate cost-sharing and dispute resolution. HDB, in particular, has leaned forward to support contractors with advance payments, time extensions, added protection against steel price fluctuations, and other measures.

But above all, it is the close collaboration of all partners, all along the construction value chain – our developers, our consultants, our architects, our engineers, our builders, our contractors, sub-contractors and suppliers – that has been critical as we navigate this crisis together. By negotiating in good faith, and striving for consensus and win-win solutions, with an eye on the long-term, we can support each other to make our way out of this pandemic.

So we look forward to your continued partnership with HDB, as we work together to keep our BTO projects on track, minimise delays, and fulfil the important mission of delivering homes to Singaporeans. On our part, HDB commits to listening to you, working with you, partnering you, to address the challenges that we face.

Housing and Social Policy

Even as we grapple with the near-term challenges of the construction sector, we continue to enhance and innovate in our public housing policies, to meet the needs and aspirations of our evolving society.

Because for us, public housing remains, at its heart, one of our core social policies. It goes beyond just providing a home for Singaporeans. It is the bedrock on which so many other aspects of our lives are built – our health and well-being, our family relationships, our connections with the wider community.

Public housing therefore helps us to achieve many important objectives – good public health, strong families, wellness, a cohesive society. All of you here, all our partners, our consultants, our builders – you are not just building infrastructure with us, you are building homes and communities. You are building estates and neighbourhoods that achieve many objectives that are important to Singapore and Singaporeans. So today, I’d like to lay out the many strategies and initiatives that we’re pursuing, to push the frontiers of our housing policies, in support of the wider progress of our society. I will take stock of everything that public housing seeks to achieve, and recognise your important role in enabling that to happen.

Housing + Social Cohesion and Inclusiveness

First, public housing is an important part of our efforts to build a cohesive and inclusive society.

We strive to ensure that our HDB towns and neighbourhoods reflect the diversity of our society, so that people from all walks of life can interact and forge strong bonds with one another. Where we live affects where we shop and eat, where our children play, who they play and go to school with.

We want to make sure that in all these daily activities which we take for granted, that Singaporeans have ample, practical opportunities to mix with those who are different from them. So that over time, we can foster more tolerant, understanding, and inclusive communities because we live with each other.

That is why, for instance, we are designing a new model for public housing in very prime and central locations of Singapore. Because if left to the free market, as it is in many other cities around the world, these areas are likely to become exclusive estates that only the well-to-do can afford. Without active intervention, powerful social and economic forces tend to drive cities toward stratification and fragmentation.

But we are determined to resist this. So we are designing a new public housing model, which will allow HDB flats in these prime locations to be accessible to Singaporeans with a range of incomes and backgrounds. We’ve been consulting Singaporeans extensively on this, and will announce more details soon.

We will also launch public rental flats in these prime locations to cater for lower-income households. In fact, we are integrating rental flats with owned flats all across Singapore, and not just in prime locations. In some cases, we build public rental flats and owned flats in the same block. These are just some of the ways that we keep our HDB estates inclusive.

Beyond socio-economic diversity, we also make sure that our HDB estates reflect the multicultural diversity of our society.

The Ethnic Integration Policy, or EIP, ensures a balanced mix of residents of different races in our HDB blocks and neighbourhoods. Most Singaporeans agree that this is crucial to maintaining and improving racial harmony in Singapore. Where the policy creates pain points for some flat owners, we are working to smoothen these rough edges, and we will share some ideas on this soon.

We also have quotas that limit the proportion of Permanent Residents and Non-Citizens in our HDB blocks and neighbourhoods, to preserve the local character of our heartlands, and encourage non-citizens to integrate more closely into our local communities.

Through these policies and more, we ensure that our HDB estates are diverse and inclusive. It is a deliberate, activist strategy, unique to Singapore. But we stand by our approach because we believe it is essential to building a cohesive, multicultural society.

As we see around the world, social cohesion doesn’t just happen naturally, it is not the natural order of things – it requires thoughtful, facilitative policies, and a lot of hard work on the ground, so that people of different races and backgrounds can live side by side.

In fact, we go beyond ensuring the diversity of our estates, to actively engaging residents to build strong communities. Through initiatives like Remaking Our Heartlands and the Lively Places Programme, we bring together residents of different ages, different backgrounds, different interests and different perspectives, to help design and activate the common spaces in their own neighbourhoods. This helps to foster a sense of belonging, ownership and community.

Housing + Family and Social Support

While our public housing policies are critical for forging strong communities, they are also important for supporting strong families. Families remain the basic unit of our society, and much of our family life revolves around our home. And so we strive to support various aspects of family life through our HDB public housing policies, including parenthood aspirations and care across generations, for our parents, for our grandparents.

For instance, many of our policies facilitate inter-generational support, by helping parents and their married children live near or with each other. There are priority schemes for this, like the Married Child Priority Scheme, in the allocation of new flats. There is financial support that we provide to enable this, through the Proximity Housing Grant for resale flats. We also have a typology of flats specially designed for multi-generation living – our 3Gen flats.

We also support couples who are starting their families. We give them priority in applying for new flats, through schemes like the Parenthood Priority Scheme. HDB also works closely with the Early Childhood Development Agency upstream, to ensure that sufficient childcare services and preschools are provided within our HDB estates.

At the same time, we recognise that some families struggle more than others through life. HDB supports these lower-income and vulnerable families with subsidised, low-cost public rental housing.

But while providing a home for them is very important, it is often not enough to help them to overcome the complex array of challenges that they face. Because in many cases, these families are anchored down by a web of interlocking difficulties – problems securing employment, medical conditions, offending behaviour, family disputes, issues at school, and much more. They need holistic support that can address their various issues comprehensively and in the right sequence.

That is why HDB is working with other agencies, to go beyond providing just the shelter of rental housing, to also integrate other social services, and provide much more family-centric support. Community Link, or ComLink, is our flagship programme, led by MSF and supported by HDB and many other agencies, that supports families with young children living in public rental flats. So housing, but accompanied by the assurance of support in an integrated way by our social service agencies, by government departments, by charities.

Through the programme, we reach out to befriend each family, and pool information across agencies with the family’s consent, to understand their needs in 360, to understand their challenges, but also their strengths, their aspirations and their own abilities. Then we bring in the different agencies to develop a common and coordinated plan to support the family’s different needs – HDB for housing, Family Service Centres for family counselling, MOE for school subsidies, MOH for healthcare, and so on,by working around the progress plan that we work out with families that live in rental flats. The key is to align the different agencies’ efforts to benefit the family most effectively.

When these families have achieved stability, and are able to build up the finances to own their own home, we then support them in their journey toward home ownership, in various ways. For example, HDB has a team of officers who form the dedicated Home ownership Support Team. This team guides the family through the flat selection, application and booking process and gives them practical tips and advice to enable and empower them on their journey.

Therefore, housing also plays a big role in social support – helping to tackle social inequalities and promote social mobility.

Housing + Health and Well-being

Finally, beyond supporting strong communities and families, our homes and neighbourhoods also play a key role in our personal health and well-being.

As my colleague, Minister Ong Ye Kung, said recently, when it comes to population health, increasingly we need to shift the centre of gravity of disease management away from acute hospitals, to the community.

This means going upstream, to focus on preventive and primary care – as prevention is better than cure – and take care of people before they fall so sick that they need to go to the hospital – so that healthcare becomes more about enhancing health, rather than caring and treating sickness and disease. A key aspect of this is to improve our living environment, make it an enabler, so that it supports all of us to make healthier choices, in our daily lives. We often take this for granted.

This is particularly important as our population ages. By 2030, about one in four Singaporeans will be aged 65 and above. At the same time, shrinking family sizes mean seniors have fewer family members to take care of them in their later years.

We take extra effort to support our seniors through our housing policies. For instance, under the Enhancement for Active Seniors or EASE scheme, HDB helps to install various features like slip-resistant tiles, grab bars, and mobility ramps, that make HDB flats more senior-friendly – all at a heavily subsidised price. And HDB works closely with our partners at MOH and AIC, to provide enough care facilities and activity centres for seniors, in HDB estates all across the island.

We have also developed a whole new housing typology in partnership with MOH, called the Community Care Apartments, which combines senior-friendly housing with care services and plenty of communal spaces and active programming.This way, seniors can continue to live independently in the same place and enjoy community living as they grow older.

We launched the first pilot of these apartments earlier this year in Bukit Batok. The response has been good, and many Singaporeans welcomed this new addition to our public housing landscape.

Beyond our seniors, we want to promote healthy living for residents of all ages, in all our HDB towns. That is why HDB has launched its Designing for Life roadmap, a blueprint that sets out how we will plan and design HDB towns to support the overall health, well-being and connectedness of residents across life stages.

In support of these efforts, we will establish Singapore’s very first Health District, in Queenstown. Let’s take a pause for a moment and watch this video, where Minister for Health Ong Ye Kung and I will share a bit more about this idea.

I hope that has given you a sense of what we’re planning to achieve – to pilot strategies such that Queenstown can be a model of a healthy and active community for all ages, which we can take reference from, and scale up successful strategies for other towns in future - both for towns we will build, and those we will rejuvenate and revitalise.  

We will do so through incorporating lessons from early pilots such as Kampong Admiralty, as well as through engaging and co-creating ideas with a range of partners – from academia and research, healthcare, eldercare, planners and the residents themselves – to integrate urban design, new models of care and technology, to innovate in a few areas.

First, enhancing health of residents through improving preventive healthcare as well as improving the planning and design of the HDB environment to nudge residents to make healthier choices.

Second, encouraging “purposeful longevity” through opportunities for seniors to engage in paid work, volunteering activities, and lifelong learning.

Third, developing affordable and useable technology that helps residents to take care of their health better, and to age in place gracefully.

My colleague, Minister of State Tan Kiat How will oversee the Health District pilot, along with Parliamentary Secretaries Rahayu Mahzam and Eric Chua. Our key institutional partners, the National University Health System (NUHS) and NUS will jointly lead this project with HDB. Both NUHS and NUS are located in Queenstown, and have rich local knowledge of the area.

Other government agencies and partners from the community and industry, such as the Tsao Foundation and the Singapore Business Federation will also be involved. And of course, we will consult closely with residents, to jointly innovate new and fresh ideas.

As we said in the video, it will take some time to realise the full potential of the Health District, and we expect a lot of learning, experiments and projects along the way. This will be an exciting platform for us to foster multi-disciplinary, collective innovation to improve the lives of our people, together.


Let me conclude.

Public housing in Singapore goes far beyond putting roofs over people’s heads. It touches almost every aspect of our lives and our society. It enables Singaporeans of different backgrounds to share common experiences, and helps us to build a more cohesive society.

It helps us to build strong family ties, across generations, and it supports vulnerable households to progress in their lives. It supports our health and well-being, at all stages of our lives, especially as we age.

In short, HDB living is an important part of who we are and how we live, here in Singapore.

Virtually no other city in the world is like us in this respect, where such a large proportion of people live in quality public housing, which you build, alongside our colleagues at HDB, where so many households own their homes.

But as much as we have achieved, we must keep pressing on to continually improve our HDB flats and our housing policies in support of the progress of our people and our society, so that Singapore remains strong and united for many generations to come.

On that note, congratulations again to all our award winners. Continue to walk this journey with us, through ups and downs. Thank you.