Dear reader,

  • Jom’s essay of the week: “Affordability in the lion city: is Singapore’s public housing model built to last?” by Jonathan Lin, is a clear, crisp explanation of the great HDB conundrum. Read this now so you’re well informed before chatting with your aunties, uncles, and cousins about housing this weekend. A huge shout-out to Anngee Neo too, for her incredible accompanying illustrations, which capture the dilemma so poignantly.
  • Singapore This Week”: In Jom’s weekly digest, we discuss the damning remarks (and imminent judgement) by the High Court against the son of Goh Chok Tong, former prime minister, and the bizarre reporting around it; the challenges young people have with in-person convos (another essential pre-CNY read); the origins of Longmen, Dragon’s gate, as we enter the year of the dragon; Coldplay’s controversial access services for d/Deaf and hard-of-hearing concertgoers; non-compete clauses in the tech industry; and much more.

For the rest of this newsletter, I’ll discuss public housing and our elections, Jom’s approach to print-digital crossovers, the way we plan our content calendar (for instance current affairs versus arts coverage), and an opening for a full-time position in our editorial team.

(And yes, I’m trying out a new newsletter format, reply and let me know what you think.)

Public housing and our elections. Late last year, I bumped into a politician from the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) at a party. We discussed public housing prices. They were excited about the new build-to-order launches expected in the middle of this year. It’s unclear whether or not these will affect the zany resale market, which set new records last month, but it’s fairly obvious that housing will be a key election issue, more so than ever before, in my view. 

Why? The short-term issue is supply and young Singaporeans feeling priced out of ownership and even rental. The longer-term issue is a multi-faceted one that encompasses asset speculation, lease decay, Central Provident Fund (CPF) savings, and fertility rates.

Jonathan traces the origins of today’s challenges to the 1990s, “...characterised by government deregulation and financialisation of the public housing system, which ignited the resale market. The focus of public housing policies shifted towards owning and growing an asset that could be used to generate wealth…What was originally intended as a social policy mixed with a smattering of free market economics slowly became a financialised nation-wide investment vehicle.”

As older HDBs start to lose their value, Jonathan accurately describes “...the fundamental problem with channelling CPF monies (retirement fund) into a leasehold flat (depreciating asset).”

It is an urgent issue that concerns all Singaporeans, whatever their political stripes, and there are no easy answers, only policy proposals with uncomfortable trade-offs. Jonathan offers us three, including (thank you!) one from the Jom team.

The next general election must be called by November 2025, but many of us expect it to be late this year or early next. I wouldn’t be surprised if public sentiment around housing is a key determinant of the date. Look out for ra-ra housing news in The Straits Times, and ever more photographs of a cheery Desmond Lee, national development minister and the princeling son of a former minister, visiting the “heartlands” to celebrate yet another new launch.

Jom’s approach to print-digital crossovers. In our first annual print issue, we included an updated version of an essay first published online. Today, with Jonathan’s essay, we’ve done the reverse—we’ve published online an updated version of a print piece.

We put a lot of thought into which pieces should appear in both formats, and they’re not decisions we take lightly. Some who bought the print issue last year might feel sianz today because they’ve already read the piece. However, many of you have also written to me to say that Jonathan’s piece deserves a wider readership, which it’ll now get.

We’ve updated it with new information and hyperlinks to relevant research. This past week, reading it probably for the sixth time now, I still found myself picking up on nuances that I’d forgotten about. Perhaps you might too.

And for those of you reading it for the first time: if you like it, do buy a print copy too (we’ve sold over half our run). Among other reasons why, you’ll be able to touch and feel Anngee’s illos in all their haptic glory, and enjoy the public housing insert produced in collaboration with Kontinentalist

Planning our content calendar. Some of you like our arts and culture essays, others are here mostly for politics and current affairs. One such reader wrote to me this week expressing dissatisfaction with our recent content. Thank you for sharing. 

All I can say for now is that we are clear about the long-term goal: a proper general interest magazine that every week publishes articles across a range of topics, from business to climate and food. For now, given our resources and writing talent, we can only put out one essay a week. There will be moments, like last month, when we lean a bit more on our arts writers, and others, like before the upcoming election, when we’ll put out more political pieces.

We appreciate your patience through it all, and your enduring support, as we build Jom together.

Jom is hiring a new head of content! This is a full-time position, part of the executive team, alongside Charmaine Poh and me. Anybody holding any passport is welcome to apply, though you must have work authorisation in SG. Deadline: February 21st. More details in the ad.

To explain a bit more, Tsen-Waye Tay, our co-founder, will soon be transitioning to a three-day a week, fully remote role. She’s moving abroad in June to spend time with her mum. The most noble of reasons, of course, to leave our city and fun team! But she won’t really be leaving, thankfully. Among other things, Waye will remain on Jom’s board, and do a lot more editorial strategising for the organisation, the sort of thing that we need, but often just don’t have the time for, caught up in the busyness of weekly journalism.

As with all her work, Waye has been very intentional and deliberate with this transition, which we’re all grateful for. We’ve been chatting about it for months now. I’m glad that there’ll be a decent amount of overlap with her “replacement”.

I’m looking forward to seeing what this new person can bring to the role, and, depending on their skills and experience, how the rest of us in the team will adapt, shift, and continue growing personally and professionally alongside them.

Lastly, and most importantly, I hope that this weekend you fill your soul with joy, your heart with love, and your belly with food.

Jom makan,
Sudhir Vadaketh,
Editor-in-chief, Jom

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