Block 81 Commonwealth Close is known as the VIP Block in Queenstown. Completed in September 1964, the 16-storey block contained 192 three-room and 64 two-room apartments. The commanding presence of Block 81 and neighbouring blocks 82 and 83 earned the neighbourhood a colourful colloquial name, Chap Lak Lao (Hokkien: 十六楼; 16 storey).
Block 81 was also the fourth block of flats under the Housing and Development Board’s (HDB) “Home Ownership for the People” scheme. The scheme was introduced in February 1964 by then Minister for National Development, Lim Kim San, to encourage a “property-owning democracy in Singapore” and enable Singaporeans in the lower middle income group to purchase their own homes. Singaporeans earning an individual income not exceeding $800 per month were eligible to purchase a flat under the scheme. The scheme was piloted in Commonwealth where 2,068 two and three-room apartments were made available on 99 year leases.
The success of Singapore’s public housing where 82% of Singaporeans reside in HDB apartments and 81% of the population own their homes today can be attributed to the “Home Ownership for the People” scheme. In the 1960s and 1970s, foreign dignitaries were brought to the VIP Block for a panoramic view of Queenstown which showcased Singapore's success in public housing. Among these distinguished guests include Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, in 1965; Indira Gandhi, then Prime Minister of India, in 1968; then Crown Prince of Akihito in 1970; and Spiro Agnew, then Vice President of the United States of America, in 1970.
The Home Ownership scheme was launched in Commonwealth, 1964 (Courtesy of Housing and Development Board)
Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, talking to a resident at the VIP Block, 1965 (Courtesy of Singapore Press Holdings)
Spiro Agnew, then Vice President of the United States, visited the VIP Block, 1970 (Courtesy of National Archives of Singapore)