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Can Singapore-style HDB homes work in Malaysia?

Experts are split over the recent invitation to Singapore's Housing and Development Board to review Malaysia's housing policy.

Ahmad Mustakim Zulkifli
2 minute read
A general view shows newly occupied Housing Development Board public residential apartments in Singapore on March 5, 2018. Photo: AFP
A general view shows newly occupied Housing Development Board public residential apartments in Singapore on March 5, 2018. Photo: AFP

Putrajaya's move to invite experts from Singapore's public housing agency to review Malaysia's housing policy has given rise to debate about the extent to which the island-state's strategies can be successfully applied in the country.

One researcher said there was no need for the housing and local government to refer to experts from Singapore's Housing and Development Board (HDB), as recently announced by the minister in charge of housing, Nga Kor Ming.

"Right now, the need is to overcome the housing problems in densely populated areas like the Klang Valley," Fahmi Bahrudin from think tank Iris Institute told MalaysiaNow.

"The HDB itself is facing problems in terms of ideas and framework as it was only meant to solve short-term issues in Singapore during the 1960s." 

The HDB, Singapore's public housing agency, is responsible for developing affordable homes for people in the republic. 

But Fahmi said that low-cost flats in Singapore had come at the cost of land and areas mostly inhabited by the Malays. 

"Malay enclaves like Geylang Serai and Kampung Glam were taken by the Singapore government for HDB housing due to land limitations," he said. 

"The Singaporean Malays were forced to move into HDB flats under a quota system where the majority are Chinese." 

Urban planning expert Nikmatul Adha Nordin said the housing and local government should meet with local experts before turning to those from Singapore. 

"Local experts would have a better grasp of the issues and problems in Malaysia,"  Nikmatul, of Universiti Malaya, said. 

"The climate in Malaysia and Singapore is the same, but the context and urbanisation patterns are different." 
Noor Rosly Hanif, of the International University of Malaya-Wales, said Singapore did not have a problem with homelessness as the HDB possessed complete and integrated data on matters such as households and individual affordability. 

"These are things that we could learn from them," Rosly, from the university's property management and auction programme, added. 

"Until today, we have not succeeded in establishing an integrated database at any level, whether district, state or national." 

In Malaysia, population data is generally divided along income lines into the T20, M40 and B40 categories. 

But Rosly said that such groupings were vague and did not contribute to tackling real needs. 

He also said that HDB's role in regulating the housing market, measuring changes in ownership according to individual needs, had helped turn homes into residences instead of merely business commodities. 

Nevertheless, he said concerns remained in matters such as national security as data on residents would be exposed to foreign countries. 

"There is some weight to this line of reasoning, but if we still lack a comprehensive database, what is there to worry about?" he added. 

Secondly, he said, housing developers might feel threatened by the prospect of agencies such as the HDB providing homes, especially for those in the B40 and M40 income brackets. 

"Their role might shrink to providing homes only for the T20," he said.