Suggestions for HDB

Hello HDB

I am Teoalida, best known for the information about HDB that I provide on my website www.teoalida.com.

Since 2008 I research architecture and housing in various countries and design my own houses and apartment models. You can see some of my designs in http://www.teoalida.com/design/apartmentplans/ (some being inspired from HDB designs, some from Hong Kong and other countries, some being my own conception)

With the experience accumulated over years I can give you several suggestions how to make better housing in Singapore.

FLAT SUPPLY

I understand that in the year 2000 were 31.000 unsold HDB flats and few years passed to sell all. However, economy recovered in mid-2000s and you ramped BTO supply too slow, not everyone likes to wait 4-year for BTO to be built, no wonder why the demand for resale flats was rising, causing prices to grow.

Instead of providing adequate supply to meet demand, you artificially try to reduce demand, you had to blame permanent residents for rising resale flat prices and ban them from applying for 3 years to cool down the market.

Now, you reduced supply from 27,000 to 17,000 flats per year and refuse to lift cooling measures. This is likely to lead again to undersupply and another price bubble during 2020s.

I suggest to forecast demand for flats by looking at immigration rate, citizen growing rate and marriage rate. And build a bit higher than demand so the application ratio for each BTO drops to 1:1. Inevitability some flats will remain unsold at initial BTO launch, but they can be always sold via Sale of Balance Flats to people who want a flat sooner than waiting 4 years for BTO.

Sourth Korea also had a problem with undersupply and very high apartment prices during 1980s. They managed to keep the prices stable from 1990 to today thanks to building more than demand. Also government is regulating the prices set by private developers, limiting maximum price of each type of flat. Source: https://www.adb.org/sites/default/files/publication/183281/adbi-wp570.pdf

TOWN PLANNING

Each land parcel require setbacks. Wide roads also require larger setbacks. To improve land use efficiency you need to build bigger parcels and fewer roads. I wish to see BTOs with 1000-2000 flats or even more. Anchorvale Gardens blk 313-318 (pre-BTO) is one of the best, 22 nearly parallel blocks with 1896 flats on a 330×350 meters land parcel.

Punggol and Fernvale are the best planned areas. Parallel roads at 300-500 meters apart, forming clusters of 2000-3000 flats, 3-4-5 BTOs sharing a common green. But the roads are a bit too wide considering number of cars.

I also love towns like Woodlands where 4-lane roads are at 600-800 meters apart and inside them are just minor 2-lane roads

SUGGESTION: design future new towns to have 4-lane roads at at least 600 meters apart and 2-lane roads inside like Woodlands, and common greens like Punggol.

However, other towns are inefficient planned and the land is wasted due to too many wide roads and small land parcels, for example Sembawang 1xx neighborhood have roads too close apart, just 180 meters between Canberra Link and Canbera Crescent, or between Yishun Avenue 8 and Canberra Street, forming clusters of max 1000 flats. Tampines Street 86 is another unnecessary 4-lane road that split a 280-meter wide parcel into two 125-meter wide parcels given by the 30-meter space eaten by road.

 

I have seen the plans for Tengah New Town. It is a pity that such large piece of land will hold only 30,000 HDB flats. That is one year and half of BTO projects. Couldn’t you build denser and taller? Talk with URA and propose increasing plot ratios.

 

BLOCKS PLANNING

Residential blocks can go taller, but carparks how tall they can go? It is inconvenient to drive a car in spiral more than 5 stories. Basement carpark is most convenient as you can go with lift directly to carpark. I have seen HDBs with basement carparks since late 1990s (Choa Chu Kang 631-637 and 638-643), why today most BTO still have carpark buildings separated from flats and up to 8 stories high?

SUGGESTION: design blocks with large number of units per floor and aligned in a row to save space. Again Punggol is one of the best examples.

SERS replacement flats for Dawson C3 are an example of bad design. Towers with only 4 flats per floor but big like Pinnacle@Duxton blocks with 6 flats per floor, and large spaces between them.

FLAT SIZES

4-room flats completed in 1982-1990 were 104 sqm, in 1990-1996 107 sqm, since 1996 were downsized to 100 sqm, since 1998 household shelter was added eating 5 sqm of space, since 2000 were further downsized to 90 sqm. Consequently, living room and bedrooms lost about 20% of space, even more loss in case of kitchen. I agree that we do not need huge kitchens, but bedroom size is an issue. During 1980s, master bedroom in 4/5-room flats was around 14 sqm and common bedrooms 11 sqm. Today master bedroom is about 10 sqm and common bedrooms 9 sqm.

Moreover, in 1990s our choices were 4-Room to Executive, averaging 120 sqm, while today we can choose between 2-Room and 5-Room, averaging 80 sqm.

I understand that we need to find a compromise for the land-scarce Singapore, but today flats are just… too small for the needs of a developed country. We are not in the third-world Philippines!

SUGGESTION: make flats of these sizes: 2-Room 40/50 sqm, 3-Room 75 sqm, 4-Room 100 sqm, 5-Room 120 sqm, 3gen 130 sqm. And try to increase supply of 5-Room flats to keep average flat size around 100 sqm. Some people would suggest reintroduction of Executive at the size it was in early 2000s, but I think that they will be purchased by families able to afford more space than they need rather than big families, so 3gen flats restricted to 2+1 applicants are welcome.

Another ridiculous feature of current HDB flats are the disproportional kitchen sizes, it is bigger in some 2-Room flats than in 4-Bedroom due to flat layout and the need of kitchen facing in the same direction with living and bedroom. A 6 sqm kitchen for a 4-Room flat is OK but a 6 sqm kitchen for a 35 sqm 2-Room flat it a waste of space, leaving too little space in living room and bedroom.

SUGGESTION: design 2-room flats (at least the smaller type) with open kitchens that are part of living room perimeter.

I have seen many people who hack bedrooms, either because living room is too small to put the couch and TV and also a dining table without blocking main door or passage to bedrooms, either because master bedroom is too small to accommodate a proper-sized wardrobe, so they turn a common bedroom into a wardrobe. This create a very disproportioned flat layout.

SUGGESTION: make master bedroom about 30-40% bigger than common bedrooms and take greater care in planning living room shape.

FLAT SIZE IN CONDOMINIUMS

While HDB flat sizes remained unchanged from 2000 onward, new condos, EC and DBSS were downsized a lot. I do not think that was a good idea to cap EC flat size to 160 sqm, now the profit-hungry developers build smaller and smaller flats to increase number of flats and reduce building costs per flat, but actually raisind price per square meter. Recent EC include 5-bedroom flats, but each bedroom is about 7-8 sqm (2.5 x 3m). Who does need so many rooms with such little space? No wonder why there are so many unsold EC nowadays and people choose to buy BTO.

I noticed that private condos developers introduced Hong Kong-sized bedrooms (2×2 meters). Singapore risk to become the second Hong Kong!

URA decision to limit minimum average flat size to 70 sqm is good, but not sufficient.

Let’s look at other countries, Ireland regulate minimum size to 1-bedroom 45 sqm, 2-bedroom 73 sqm, 4-bedroom 90 sqm, source: https://www.rte.ie/news/business/2015/1222/755594-apartment-sizes/

SUGGESTION: talk with URA to regulate minimum size of each apartment type, example 3-room should be minimum 60 sqm, 4-room minimum 90 sqm, etc. And this size should be without balcony and A/C ledge, so developers can still build balconies to increase flat size without exceeding permitted gross floor area. Would be good also a regulation for minimum size of each room. Malaysia building code set minimum size 11 sqm for first bedroom, 9.3 sqm for second, 6.5 sqm for third. Most countries have similar rules.

http://www.teoalida.com/design/apartmentplans/

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