Public housing is often considered low in quality and high in crime. But it’s a totally different story in Singapore. Government-built apartments in Singapore are clean, safe, and well-maintained. And about 80% of Singaporean households live in them. Singapore is also one of the few countries in the world to achieve almost full homeownership status. Over 90% of the city’s households own their own homes. But it wasn’t always this way. Here’s how Singapore fixed its housing problem. In 1959, when Singapore obtained self-governance from the British, the city was having a severe housing crisis, struggling to accommodate its growing population. In 1960, Singapore’s first Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew and his government set up the Housing and Development Board, or HDB, a public housing agency with a mission to build rental units for the poor. At the time, many immigrants including those from Malaysia were living in unhygienic slums. Amid increasing racial tension between Chinese and Malays, the HDB had a hard time convincing them to leave their informal settlements for new high-rises. Then came the still unexplained fire which broke out in the squatter settlement of Bukit Ho Swee on May 25, 1961. An area of 400,000 square meters was razed. Four people were killed and around 16,000 left homeless. The government successfully rehoused all of the fire victims within a year and built new housing on the site of the disaster in the next five years. Its speedy reaction won over the people and paved the way for future public housing projects. Singapore must be one of the few places in the world where a statutory board satisfactorily completed everything it set out to do in its first five-year plan. By 1965, the HDB managed to build over 51,000 apartments, rehousing 400,000 people, a quarter of the then population, solving the housing shortage. Apart from renting out apartments, HDB also started to sell them in 1964. Singaporeans are required to save part of their salaries in a state-managed plan called Central Provident Fund. At first the fund only provided for retirement. Then, in 1968, the government allowed the use of the fund for housing expenses, helping more people become homeowners. Unlike many other countries, Singapore’s public housing is not only for the poor, instead, it caters to the masses. Citizens within certain income ceilings can buy various types of property, from basic two-room apartments to up-market units in condominiums with a swimming pool and a gym. Their prices are usually 20 to 30 percent cheaper than those in the private market. But you’ve got to apply and order the apartment first, then wait several years for it to be built. Also, you can’t sell it until you finish the five-year minimum occupation period. Today HDB has planned, designed and built over 1 million apartments spreading over the city-state. The percentage of people living in public housing has grown from 9% in 1960 to 82% in 2016, and the homeownership rate has also increased rapidly with the rise of Singapore’s economy. Singapore’s public housing is considered as one of the world’s best, but some see it as a way of social control. For instant, quotas ensure a mix of Chinese, Indians and Malays in each HDB block, aiming to carefully integrate ethnic groups and prevent the formation of a volatile racial enclave. But still, a mighty agency with effective policies and strong political will has fixed Singapore’s housing crisis and improved the living conditions of millions.