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The middle class nightmare

The middle class nightmare

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The government can do more to reduce the price of property in Singapore, alleviating the financial challenges faced by a large middle class.

By Fang Shihan

The outlook for average Singaporeans can be scary, especially considering the high cost of living. Photo: WILLIAM CHO / Creative Commons

IT’S probably a universal phenomenon. Fresh graduate comes out into the working world, draws his first paycheck, and wakes up one day a few months later breaking out in cold sweat.

It’s the middle class nightmare. You know, the one where you’re taking a photo at the main door, spouse in arm, kids running around at knee level. You flash a hugeass smile as you look proudly into the camera feeling like your life is absolutely perfect.

And you wake up feeling horrified at how you’ve transformed into a mindless automaton in the economic machine. You also feel ashamed at desiring the perfect middle class life because you’ve been taught in school that it’s all a damn construct.

We all have the same nightmare. But here on the island it’s a little different. See, friends in Australia or countries with a larger land mass feel their skin crawl at the sight of a house with a lawn, a dog and…. a white picket fence. Here we dream about a three-room flat in Punggol with a steel gate, a view hopefully not of the neighbour’s kitchen and…. a maid.

I remember growing up in the 90s listening to the debate about Singaporeans and their 5Cs- cash, car, condo, credit card and country club. Fast forward 20 years later, we’re not even dreaming of the condo anymore. We’re dreaming of a flat. Friggin little cubicles built so close together that you become paranoid about your neighbours eavesdropping while you have sex at home.

Were we ever supposed to aspire to public housing?

MP Mah “Your Assets will Appreciate!” Bow Tan wrote a piece sometime last year reiterating that “the Government’s basic principle… is to provide affordable public housing for the vast majority of Singaporeans – not just for 10 or 20 per cent, like most countries, but up to 80 per cent of the population.”

The government has obviously forgotten about the initial proposal of ‘public housing’ and above all, what constitutes as ‘affordable housing’.

The logic to co-opt Singaporeans under the public housing umbrella undeniably made sense back in 1960, where slums and squatter settlements were aplenty. After all, a housed, clothed and fed worker was a more productive worker. Public housing also made for a good social control mechanism but.. let’s not get into that.

But the past is the past. As the saying goes: “Last time policemen wore shorts”.

There are no slums now save for a small group of happy campers at various beaches and parks. However there’s a large middle class with aspirations for social mobility.

Does it make sense for the government to co-opt these aspirations into the public housing system? More importantly, SHOULD the government even try to cater to the middle class family with a household income of $10,000?

Thanks, but I’d rather not the HDB have a monopoly of the housing market on the pretext of housing provision.

When I describe the HDB to my friends abroad, they’re usually in awe of the efficiency of the system. Homeless rates are close to zilch, that’s quite a feat. Then I tell them about how much an average flat costs and almost certainly, jaws drop in shock. $300,000 for a tiny 3 room flat??? Yes Siree, and I haven’t even gotten to COE prices yet.

Here’s my take on why housing HAS to be increasingly expensive: To keep 80% of the population within the arms of the nanny state and to a lesser extent, to keep the upper middle income class politically subservient. Imagine being within the $10,000 income bracket. Too rich for public housing yet too poor to afford a million-dollar condo. Would you be pissed? I would.

And the solution? Executive HDBs. Because that’s considered ‘affordable housing’ for a family that’s not-quite-there-yet.

Just to prove that this is not just a gigantic conspiracy theory, think about this. In a situation such as this, would the logical solution be to reduce the percentage of those living in public housing, and to free up more land for private development?

Condos are obviously more expensive than HDBs, in large part because of land prices. But instead of passing policies to reduce the prices in the private market, what’s happened is that the public sector trying it’s darndest to match the private sector. And everything goes up up up.

The government has obviously forgotten about the initial proposal of ‘public housing’ and above all, what constitutes as ‘affordable housing’.