Public Subsidy/Private Capital: Political Economic Contradictions in Singapore’s Public Housing System

17:00 to 18:30
(GMT+00:00) Greenwich Mean Time - Dublin, Edinburgh, Lisbon, London
Hybrid Event
The Housing and Development Board (HDB) of Singapore is effectively the monopoly provider of housing for all but the wealthiest 10-15 percent of Singaporeans who can afford housing in the private sector. Colloquially, the HDB flat is commonly referred as ‘government housing’; the HDB’s achievement is thus equated with the success of the long-governing People’s Action Party government. This also means that issues in public housing provision often translate or transform into political issues for the government. This presentation will focus on a set of issues that have emerged from the sale and ownership of 99-year lease on public housing unit, which permits capital gains or profit to be made by public housing residents, through the buy-and-sell cycle of the lease.

This engenders a process of private capture of public subsidy as private wealth. Ironically, it could be demonstrated that this process is encouraged, if not necessitated, by the fact that ownership of the lease is facilitated by using the compulsory social security savings of leaseholder, a process that transform the flat into an asset-based welfare system. The issues are thus systemically generated. As the system is deeply embedded in the domestic economy, emergent issues have to be fixed quickly by the government, failing which its popular votes in general elections will be affected. The system is thus like a computer operating system which requires regular patches when loop holes are discovered and attacked. However, in the case of the Singapore national housing program, discarding the system and start anew is out of the question.

Speakers and chair biographies:

Chua Beng Huat received his PhD from York University, Canada. Concurrently he is the Provost Chair Professor in the Faculty of Arts and Social Science, and Head of the Department of Sociology, at the National University of Singapore. He is also the Research Leader, Cultural Studies in Asia Research Cluster, Asia Research Institute, NUS. He has held visiting professorships at universities in US, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Germany and Australia. He is currently Chairman, Board of Trustees, Temenggong Artists-in-Residence, a non profit visual arts institution in Singapore.

Suraya Ismail is Director of Research at Khazanah Research Institute (KRI). She is a member of the Panel of Experts, Ministry of Housing and Local Government; and council member of both National Costs of Living Council, and National Council of Digital Economy, Government of Malaysia. Before joining the Institute, she was Program Director at Think City (a city-making initiative of Khazanah Nasional Berhad), where her role involved developing urban regeneration initiatives through a public grants program in George Town UNESCO WHS, Penang. Prior to that, Suraya was the Deputy Dean of the Faculty of the Built Environment at University Malaya as well as the Head of the Department of Quantity Surveying. Suraya was educated at the University of Reading, the University of Malaya and the Bartlett School, UCL. She is currently a Visiting Scholar at the Department of Land Economy, University of Cambridge.

Hyun Bang Shin (urbancommune) is Professor of Geography and Urban Studies at the London School of Economics and Political Science and directs the LSE Saw Swee Hock Southeast Asia Centre. His research centres on the critical analysis of the political economy of speculative urbanisation, gentrification and displacement, urban spectacles, and urbanism with particular attention to Asian cities. His books include Planetary Gentrification (Polity, 2016), Neoliberal Urbanism, Contested Cities and Housing in Asia (Palgrave Macmillan, 2019), Exporting Urban Korea? Reconsidering the Korean Urban Development Experience (Routledge, 2021), and The Political Economy of Mega Projects in Asia: Globalization and Urban Transformation (Routledge, forthcoming). He is Editor of the International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, and is also a trustee of the Urban Studies Foundation.

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LSE Saw Swee Hock Southeast Asia Centre
Hybrid: Via Zoom or London School of Economics and Political Science TBA London WC2A 2AE United Kingdom

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