Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong set out yesterday why home ownership is a key national policy, saying it gives every Singaporean a stake in the country and has improved lives significantly for all.
On the issue of 99-year Housing Board leases, Mr Lee refuted the notion that the lease is "merely an extended rental" and not a sale.
He said he found the argument by some commentators "frankly amazing", as many private properties are held on 99-year leases but no one argues they are merely being rented.
"HDB lessees have all the rights over their flats that owners of such leasehold private properties have. You can live in it, you can transact it, you can bequeath it to your children - it is yours," said Mr Lee, at a book launch held at the National University of Singapore.
In fact, HDB owners enjoy extra privileges, because their flats get upgraded from time to time with generous government funding, he added.
While the Prime Minister did not name the commentators he was referring to, The Straits Times had published a commentary on Aug 14 by property agent Ku Swee Yong, who said people should "recognise that we are merely lessees who rent the HDB flats for their terms".
Public housing was one of the hot-button issues Mr Lee addressed at the National Day Rally on Sunday, when he announced several long-term housing initiatives in response to concerns over expiring HDB leases.
Returning to the issue yesterday, he said home ownership enables every Singaporean to share in the country's economic growth, because as the economy grows, so will the value of their homes.
Nearly every household - even low-income ones - has a substantial asset to its name. This has allowed Singapore to avoid the extremes of privation and poverty often seen even in affluent societies, Mr Lee said.
He noted that the Government could have adopted other policies to house the people, such as having controlled rents like in San Francisco or leaving housing largely to the private market like in Hong Kong.
"But none of these alternatives would have achieved the same economic and social results as home ownership," he said.
He also said rental housing creates a very different mindset from owning a home, as a tenant lives from month to month and has no interest in the property's long-term value as he cannot sell or leave it to his children.
In comparison, a home owner takes responsibility for his property, thinks long term and does his best to protect its value - including upholding the society and system on which the value of his home depends, he said. This is why HDB sells flats at highly subsidised rates, including to lower-income households, rather than offering them subsidised rental units, he added.
Besides housing, Mr Lee also held up the compulsory Central Provident Fund (CPF) saving scheme as another way the Government helps Singaporeans build up their assets.
Instead of a state pension scheme funded by taxes as is done in many nations, the Government has built a unique system to help people build a nest egg for retirement, he said.
Mr Lee also talked about the country's intangible assets, like its commitment to multiculturalism.
"These intangibles hold us together as one people," he said. "They enable our society to solve problems and make progress in ways which are very difficult for others to emulate."