Where Public Housing Residents Can Become Millionaires, Most Of You Might Want To Live There

four apartment towers in Singapore
HDB blocks in Dover photo by Deoma12 is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0
Homes developed by Singapore's Housing and Development Board.

Some housing activists in North America are hoping to rekindle the importance of public housing as a solution to their local version of a world’s ever-deepening affordable housing crisis.

Philosophizing about the shape and nature of such a public housing rebirth has been re-branded as ‘social housing’ in the United States. It features the concept of rent geared to income housing that would be equally attractive to the most vulnerable citizens and to the middle classes.

It would be the middle class enthusiasm for social housing that would generate enough revenue from rents-geared-to-incomes to pay for development, management and on-going maintenance of ‘social housing.’ In the United States, such an initiative would be a radical departure from nearing a century of public housing projects that continue to depend on endless government subsidies.

In the world beyond the United States, two state public/social housing projects have gained particular fame for successful mixed income (lower and middle class) government-built housing.

The city/state of Vienna, Austria, owes its success to a 16-year period sometimes called ‘Red Vienna’ following World War One when an enormous amount of public housing was built. Austria was and is a capitalist country. Vienna was and is proud that 60% of its housing is cooperative housing, public housing, or government-subsidized1.

There is another state that set out more recently to deliberately to achieve housing for all. This would be accomplished as a socialist function. It would be undertaken by a government also committed strongly to free-enterprise capitalism. This is Singapore, which is as a singular model of planned ‘social housing’ for any city, state, or country looking to recreate their wildly successful model.

Like who? Well, like the citizens of Seattle, Washington, who voted in a referendum to proceed to develop ‘social’ housing. It would attract and satisfy the housing needs of people with no housing as well as reasonably well-heeled middle classes.

Citizens said ‘yes, please’ to social housing in a referendum in early 2023. Seattle’s Council seems to be on a lukewarm mission to fund the salaries to hire two people to get the social housing party started. Baby steps for sure, and arguably unenthusiastic ones at that from the powers that be2.

Is the Seattle citizenry on to something both important and achievable? It might be useful to consider the complexity of the problem that daily confronts the Singapore Housing Development Board’s (HDB’s) task in creating a product of world envy.

Here’s one aspect that may be attractive. Singapore’s residents can purchase their public housing home, paying it off in instalments. In some cases, selling that home has reaped extraordinary profit and wealth.

Leaving aside some 60 odd years of evolution, both theoretical and practical, read more about the issues being currently being debated and implemented in the EAST ASIA FORUM: Investigating Singapore’s public housing issues


  1. For more on this subject, read in CityMonitor: How Vienna earned its place in housing history
  2. Try: Seattle’s Imaginary ‘Don Quixote’ Set To Tilt At Public Housing Windmills?