Where in the world do new apartments cost less than new cars, and where is the quality of public housing so high that half the residents are buying their apartments?
The answer: Singapore.
Depending on the number of rooms, Singapore's public-housing flats in the newest complexes range from $7,110 to $15,750, and rent is modest.
In housing estates (developments) 10 to 15 years old, prices are lower. A four-room apartment there sells for $6,000 and rent is $30 a month.
A standard Datsun automobile retails for more than $10,000, a Volvo 244 for $19,000. Six-and eight-cylinder American cars cost so much that they are not even seen on Singapore streets.
The government controls public-housing costs and, through the use of prohibitive import tariffs running into thousands of dollars per car, also controls the price of automobiles.
Singapore is determined to get its people into space-saving, clean, low-cost housing and equally is determined to slow the proliferation of private cars.
Encompassing only 225 square miles, this republic is populated by more than 2.3 million people.
Until about 1960 life was hard in Singapore. Except for the entrepreneurial class of wealthy Chinese, Europeans and Americans, the bulk of its citizens lived in relative poverty in the jungle kampongs, villages and city tenements. The almost total lack of amenities available inflamed racial animosity among the Chinese, Malays and Indians, a situation that local Communists quickly exploited to their advantage.
A British colony with virtually no natural resources, but with a strategic location, Singapore long had thrived as the major trading and shipping center of Southeast Asia. It had little industry of its own: Profits quickly left the country to disappear into the pockets of absentee shareholders.
When Lee Kuan Yew became prime minister in 1959 and his People's Action Party took control of the country, they had a master plan designed to turn Singapore into the economic giant of Southeast Asia and provide its people with a standard of living unprecedented in this part of the world.
With the assistance of the United States, Japan and Western Europe, labor-intensive industry was established quickly, providing jobs for the people of Singapore and economic muscle for its government.
A comprehensive housing scheme, designed as the core of a new economic and social order, was initiated immediately.
The plan called for the creation of satellite towns ringing the city, complete with high-rise apartments. Each complex was to have its own schools, medical clinics, libraries, stores and recreation centers.
On the perimeter of each town were to be the offices and factories housing the new industries.
The plan would accomplish many social objectives. Key among them were the concentration of population in small, efficient land areas; immediate elevation of the standard of living; eredication of tropical diseases through immunization; licensing and inspection of food outlets; moving the people out of swamp and jungle; reduction of racial animosity and ethnic separatism by persuading the clannish Chinese majority, the Malays and the Indians to live together harmoniously.
Simultaneously, a coordinated national effort was being made to promote determination, self-reliance, discipline, cleanliness, morality and national consciousness. Henceforth, all were exhorted to think of themselves as Singaporeans.
Such a mass movement of people required extensive clearing of jungles, swamps and villages, leveling of hills and the reclamation of land eroded by the encroaching sea.
The Housing Development Board (HDB) was created to build and manage the estates. Some 1,680 apartments were completed in 1960, and the rate of construction steadily increased. At present more than 30,000 units are added each year.
Today, 1.4 million people -- 65 percent of the total population -- are living on more than 20 estates. These vary in size from Clementi Estates with 10,000 flats and 50,000 residents to the huge Marine Parade with 30,000 units and 150,000 people.
Before long, all of Singapore's citizens are destined to be well-housed. The slums no longer will exist.
On previous visits I had been impressed by the dazzling sight of all this new housing.
Once outside of the downtown area, wherever I looked, there were miles of clean white, beige and tan apartment buildings, rising 10 to 20 stories, surrounded by trees, parks and carefully tended flower beds and pathways.
Except for the number of buildings, it often is hard to tell the housing complexes from the luxury tourist hotels.
My guide, We Chin Guan, head taxi driver for the Oberoi Imperial Hotel, showed me through the Queensway Estate, where he has lived since 1964.
By Western standards, the apartments in the older estates are small, but those in the newer complexes are larger and more luxurious, with more amenities. All, however, have washing machines, water, gas and electricity.
An arresting and colorful sight is the forest of flagpoles jutting from each balcony and hung with the family wash.
There are scores of shops, and public buses drive through each complex providing cheap transportation to all points in Singapore. Since heavy rains are frequent, the ground floor of most buildings is open space, providing shelter for those caught in downpours.
Despite the official attitude toward private cars, Singapore's pragmatic government provides plenty of parking spaces.
Wee's monthly rent for two bedrooms, kitchen, bath and living room is $30 and he pays about $12 for utilities. Most of his income goes for food, which is not cheap in Singapore, and to pay off the taxi, which he owns.
Apartments are available on a first-come, first-served basis, with the proviso that priority be given those whose former homes were obliterated by the clearing of land for construction.
Until recently, only married couples could apply. Today, certain other family combinations are accepted. An example would be a single man or woman with elderly parents. Under no circumstances, however, does the government permit unmarried couples or singles to live in HDB apartments.