This brief shows how Singapore’s social integration policies, in particular the housing policies, have been instrumental in reducing residential segregation among ethnic groups. Even if such policies may not be transferred one-to-one to other countries, their success merits study. At independence, Singapore faced race riots and very poor initial conditions, but built a wealthy and cohesive society in only five decades. The provision of almost universal public housing combined with an ethnic residential quota system was instrumental in this achievement. The quota system was introduced in 1989 in response to evidence that ethnic groups tended to re-segregate. It was implemented mostly through the flow of new public housing to minimize the impact on exiting owners and to increase acceptance. Public housing in Singapore is affordable and attractive. In addition to the ethnic quota, it promotes social integration by mixing types of flats and income levels, providing quality shared public spaces and services and ensuring that no neighbourhood becomes disadvantaged and is left behind.
Beatrice Weder di Mauro is a CIGI senior fellow, president of the Centre for Economic Policy Research and a professor of economics at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva.