Lately, with the surge in conversations surrounding racial and minority issues, another topic for discussion has come into the picture: The Ethnic Integration Policy for public housing.
What is the Ethnic Integration Policy?
On the same floor in your HDB unit, you’ll probably see a good mix of ethnic races. You would have come across how elderly Chinese neighbours speaking Melayu to their Malay neighbours or even Indian neighbours using mandarin or dialects to converse with the elderly Chinese neighbours living on the same floor. Even during the festive periods where neighbours would celebrate their ethnic holidays and neighbour of different races will wish one another. We owe these racial interactions to the Ethnic Integration Policy.
The Ethnic Integration Policy (EIP) was introduced in 1989 to ensure a balanced mix of ethnic groups in HDB estates, seeking to prevent the formation of social enclaves. With the implementation of this policy, there are limits on the total percentage of a block or neighbourhood that may be occupied by a certain ethnicity. When these limits are reached, no further sale of flats to the affected group is allowed, unless the seller and buyer belong to the same ethnic group.
So how does it affect minorities?
Following Finance Minister Lawrence Wong’s speech and dialogue on Friday (25 June) about race, racism and multiracialism, Leader of the Opposition Pritam Singh responded to his speech in a Facebook post on Saturday (26 June), saying that minorities in Singapore bear a “direct and real” financial burden from the EIP for public housing. According to this post, Mr Singh shared that our friends from the minority races have to lower the price of their flats to effect a sale.
But… The truth is, the real estate market is volatile and there are many factors that can affect the value of a piece of property. Not just the fact that you need to sell it to a person of the same race.
Race aside, the value of a property is not only reliant on whether or not you can sell it to a person or family of the same race. Many conditions come into play such as the age and condition of your flat. Location, interior, renovation works, even estate reputation can come into play.
The potentially low value of a resale flat does not only affect minorities but anyone regardless of race. For instance, as a Chinese household, if the racial quota in your neighbourhood, block or estate has maxed out for the Chinese race, a Chinese household looking to sell their flats will have to look for a potential minority buyer. Therefore, to label it solely as a minority issue is incorrect.
Moreover, HDB’s priority is to provide affordable public housing for all Singaporeans. Using it to flip for profit should not be the reason to oppose EIP. Because at the end of the day, all owners will make some profit selling their BTO flats. EIP should not abolish for the sake of maximising resale flat value.
So… with these grievances that Mr Singh has pointed out, is he implying that the EIP should be abolished?
Mr Singh and his party’s statement regarding their stance on the EIP is nothing short of vague. In his Facebook post, he also shared two instances in which the WP helped to appeal for the EIP, stating financial difficulties for some. The other example did not cite any concrete reasons as to why the EIP should be waived. Mr Singh’s statement the EIP thus did bring about any concrete next steps nor bring any insight into how we should be improving the policy.
In conclusion, the EIP is a much-needed policy that we need to adapt to ensure that we integrate multi racialism into the most essential parts of our lives – where we choose to live. Sure, one might argue that there are many restrictions that bring some kind of discomfort as there are always areas that we have to sacrifice. The EIP definitely has its merits and whilst there is always a need to improve, we have to be clear on what areas we should be tweaking to better meet the ever-evolving needs of our nation.