“National Development Minister Lawrence Wong, who announced the move in March last year, said more of such integrated blocks will be built if feedback about the lived experiences is positive” (Mixed Results in HDB Block that Mixes Rental and Purchased Flats, Yuen Sin, Salome Ong, and Aqil Hamzah).
The excellent report of the diverse residential experiences within Singapore’s only integrated housing block which mixes rental and purchased units (ST, Jun. 6) highlights both the potential and limits of government intervention to reduce socio-economic inequality or stratification – especially given that some from the purchased units appear disproportionately displeased with the arrangement, that residents of both groups have created and mostly stuck to their respective communication channels, and that online and offline interactions across the groups seem limited – brings attention to the perceptions we have of ourselves and the stereotypes we hold of other Singaporeans, and ultimately points to the complexity of social mixing in different settings. Academic researchers, in this vein, should also be prompted to further examine some of these questions on attitudes and behaviours of the residents and their families.
In addition, studying the characteristics of these integrated blocks and their residents also points to the importance of evaluating the characteristics of the rental flats, especially since one respondent staying in a rental unit described her past experience as not peaceful and riddled with many problems. Research around the world has demonstrated the relationship between neighbourhood assets or community efficacy and the well-being of families as well as the positive development of their children. And while general levels of prosperity and ethnic integration policies have respectively resulted in generally strong communities and prevented the formation of ethnic enclaves, a contemporary challenge is division across socio-economic statuses. It is increasingly plausible for a child from a middle- or upper-class family – through their housing environment, their school and university, their workplace, their social networks, and even the social circles of their partners – to never have interactions with those from low-income or disadvantaged backgrounds.
The result of these non-interactions is the likely persistence of prejudiced perspectives from childhood to adulthood, and to the next generation. Some of these perspectives were echoed: That those in rental flats have different life goals, are more likely to dirty common areas, and would depress property prices. The government may be keen to bridge these divides, but the most sustainable solutions must emerge from individuals and communities, and especially for those born into privilege to proactively burst personal bubbles. Beyond frames of reference anchored by pity or other class-based distinctions and beyond regarding each other as equals, perhaps a greater focus on commonalities – starting with the children and the family and moving to features of the shared living environment – would mean much more.
A version of this article was published in The Straits Times.