S’pore’s housing policies actively support social integration & mobility: Desmond Lee

At the Institute of Policy Studies’ Singapore Perspectives 2022 conference on Jan 24, 2022, National Development Minister Desmond Lee delivered a speech about his vision of Singapore and how we can get there. He said that as a small city-state, bringing all elements of Singapore together will result in trade offs and the choices we make will define the society we become. In the following excerpt of his speech, Minister Lee outlined how the government’s policies actively support social integration and mobility, leaving nothing to chance.

Besides climate change, which is top-of-mind around the world, another major challenge is to continue fostering a more inclusive and united society here in our city-state. Societies all around the world are becoming more polarised along race, religion, socio-economic status or political ideologies. This is exacerbated by the online space, where it is much easier to interact only with those who agree with us and shun others who do not.

But as Professor Carlo Ratti of MIT observed in an earlier panel, physical spaces can be an “antidote” to this because in physical spaces we have to meet, adapt, adjust and accommodate those around us, no matter how different they are.

In Singapore, we proactively plan our city to create opportunities for different groups to interact, in and around where they live.

We have policies like the Ethnic Integration Policy, which seeks to ensure a representative mix of races in our HDB heartlands.

We also encourage interaction among people of different socio-economic backgrounds. We recently launched a new model for public housing in prime locations, so that these areas are accessible to more Singaporeans, and not only the well-to-do, bearing in mind how, over time, different parts of our city rise and fall in value. We want to make sure our public housing strategy injects public housing and Singaporeans from all walks of life into these areas. We will introduce public rental housing for lower-income households in these prime locations too. In fact, we’re integrating public rental flats with home ownership flats across our island, in some cases even within the same block.

We pair these policies with programmes and activities to encourage community bonding. And for lower-income households in public rental housing, important social initiatives like ComLink provide holistic and coordinated support for those living in rental flats in healthcare, education and other areas. So, it’s not just housing for lower-income, but housing with social support coming along with it. HDB’s dedicated Home ownership Support Team will also guide them in buying their own home when they’re ready to do so.

In these ways, we actively support social integration and mobility, and don’t seek to leave it to chance.

Being inclusive also means designing our city to meet the needs of different groups, especially those who need more support. My colleague Mr Lim Eng Hwee (CEO of URA) shared on this too in an earlier session.

We have also been putting in effort to better support persons with disabilities in our city. Through regulations like BCA’s Accessibility Code, as well as various agencies’ efforts to design and install accessibility infrastructure, we’ve made many parts of our city more barrier-free. But from the everyday experience of differently abled Singaporeans, gaps still exist, which we can do more to address.

We’ve set up the Accessible City Network, which brings together the public, private, and people sectors, to explore close-up ways to enhance the accessibility of our city at the ground level, guided by the lived realities of persons with disabilities – by improving way- finding tools, for instance, or by identifying overlooked opportunities for more barrier-free features. So, we’re not just leaving it to regulations and compliance, but we’re actually bringing communities together – building owners, public agencies, corporates, NGOs, disability groups and individuals who live, work on those areas to identify at the micro-level or ground-level, what the problems are to fix them. We’ve started pilots in the CBD, as well as in some heartland neighbourhoods. So it’s not just about the issue, but the way in which we seek to address these issues on the ground is different.

This is just one initiative from our Third Enabling Masterplan. We refresh this Masterplan every five years to lay out how we can better empower persons with disabilities in various aspects of their lives here in our city-state.

These are just some of the ways in which we plan and build our city for a more inclusive society.

Cover photo credit: Desmond Lee’s Facebook page