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Singapore tries to slow spread of 'shoe box' apartments

September 4, 2012 |  1:14 pm


Singapore is trying to slow the explosion of “shoe box” apartments outside its central district,   fearing  that the rampant growth of the tiny units could squeeze out families and increase traffic as more people are packed into smaller spaces.

Surging prices and scant space have sent apartment developers and renters flocking to the units, which measure about 538 square feet or less. The pint-sized apartments will number about 11,000 in Singapore by the end of 2015, more than four times as many as existed there in December, according to the Urban Redevelopment Authority.

Though they cost more per square foot than ordinary apartments, shoe boxes have been marketed to young, single professionals as an easy and efficient option in the costly country. Singaporean websites offer tips on making the itty-bitty apartments look bigger with strategically placed mirrors and pale colors.

“They aren’t designed for family living, unless you consider claustrophobia a desirable trait in your children,” Ryan Ong, editor of the Singaporean financial news website MoneySmart, quipped in an article this spring. “You know who tolerates shoe box apartments? Singles who intend to stay that way.”

The small digs are also desirable for developers seeking to maximize profit. More housing developments are turning to shoe boxes, with the tiny units making up 50% to 80% of apartment units in some new developments, the Urban Redevelopment Authority said Tuesday.

The expansion into the suburbs, which traditionally cater to families, has added to local unease about their repercussions. Concern that shoe box living might be discouraging young couples from having children has packed a political punch in light of the lagging Singapore birthrate.

To stop shoe boxes from making up “a disproportionately large portion of the housing stock,” redevelopment officials said Tuesday that starting in November the number of units per development will be capped in suburban areas starting, using a mathematical formula.

“As regulators, we try not to interfere in the normal functioning of the market, or to second-guess it,” National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan wrote on his blog as the new rules were announced. “But occasionally, some judicious intervention for public interest is necessary when the market outcome is less than satisfactory.”

He called the new rules “measured and moderate.”

Not everyone is pleased by the crackdown, however. “Sucks to be single in Singapore!” former Singapore financial journalist Timothy Ouyang wrote on Twitter.


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-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles

Photo: A public housing apartment complex building site in Singapore on Tuesday. Credit: Roslan Rahman / AFP/Getty Images