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Who’s telling the truth about HDB flat sizes?

~ by Ng E-Jay ~

So, who is really telling the truth about HDB flat sizes?

On 26 November 2011, the Straits Times published an article, “Shrinking HDB flats due to need to maximise land and to adapt“. The article stated that according to HDB, the average HDB flat has shrunk over the years, due to the need to maximise Singapore’s limited land. HDB also said that architects have compensated by increasing the use of internal space through better flat layouts.

These remarks were made after a heated discussion that ensued when HDB chief executive Ms Cheong Koon Hean declared that smaller flats do not mean a lower quality of living.

An average four-room HDB flat built today has reportedly shrunk to around 90 sq metres, or 969 sq ft, compared to the average size 4-room flats built in the 1980s which were of 105 sq metres, or 1,130 sq ft.

However, National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan was reported by the media just a few days ago as having asserted that HDB flat sizes have not shrunk in recent years!

Mr Khaw said that flat sizes have in fact remained unchanged for the past 15 years. (ST, “HDB hasn’t shrunk flat sizes, says Khaw”, 03 May 2012).

Both the Nov 2011 and the May 2012 ST articles were penned by the same journalist, Ms Jessica Cheam.

Now, HDB has said that a four-room flat, for instance, has remained at 90 sq metres since the mid-90s. HDB has also said that the amount of living space per person has risen, as the number of people in an average household has dropped.

Can the average Singaporean be forgiven for being confused by this “world-class” journalism?

Flat sizes have indeed shrunk over the years, since the 1980s, as credibly reported by the ST when Ms Jessica Cheam was Housing Correspondent in Nov 2011.

As Political Correspondent in May 2012, however, Ms Cheam’s article now cherry-picks a new reference point — the mid 90′s, which HDB statistics conveniently show no decrease in average flat size.

Picking a new point of reference to deny a politically embarrassing fact is a disingenuous move by the National Development Minister, by HDB, and by the Straits Times, to say the least.

The truth however remains. The standard of living of Singapore citizens has dropped over the years because HDB has built smaller flats. And to make things worse, HDB prices have most certainly skyrocketed since the 1980s, as much as 10 to 15 times depending on location.

Have salaries gone up 10 to 15 times since the mid 1980′s? For the very top income earners, the answer is in the affirmative. For the lower to lower-middle income earners, however, the answer is “certainly NOT”. So for the lower rungs of wage earners, not only have incomes failed to keep pace with property prices, to add insult to injury, flat sizes have shrunk. Its a double whammy.

The ST article makes it appear that living standards have not dropped, because families are now smaller by comparison to decades past.

I would however prefer to look at this matter from a different angle. Smaller flats, a more stressful lifestyle, relentless competition from foreigners, and an insanely rising cost of living have made Singapore citizens have fewer babies.

It is a fact that a decrease in the birth rate has accompanied economic growth in every developed country.

In Singapore, however, the situation has been exacerbated by the strain on the social fabric, the incessant pursuit of material wealth and obsession with the rat race, and our pressure-cooker economic environment that does not tolerate failure and which expects everyone to fall into a giant assembly line of mindless conformity.

Do not forget too, that the government made matters much worse by implementing a two-child policy in the 70′s and the graduate mother’s scheme in the early 80′s, both of which later turned out to be short-sighted. The graduate mother’s scheme in particular was highly discriminatory, and ultimately disastrous.

Minister Khaw Boon Wan has said that Singapore will not go the way of Hong Kong, where public home sizes are much smaller. And he also gave the assurance that prices will not rise as fast as they did in the past. He said flats would remain affordable, and that the current high levels would not persist.

Even if housing prices stabilize, the damage has already been done. Unless wages rise fast enough to match the current price level, a generation of young Singapore citizens who have just started out on their careers and families will be burdened with lengthy and expensive mortgages that will consume their resources and prevent them from saving for retirement. Imagine what will happen 25, or 30 years later, when the current batch of young citizens are getting ready to enter their golden years. They will find that all their money has been sunk into their property, with little left over.

But has the government shown enough commitment to raise incomes so that people will be able to afford the expensive homes? There is much talk about the need to raise productivity in tandem with any rise in income, so that competitiveness will be maintained.

Yet it is precisely the government’s overly-liberal immigration and pro-foreigner policies that have resulted in BOTH wages and productivity being dampened.

Can someone please make the government understand it is their prized policies that is causing all this mess and creating wreckage in people’s lives.