Located near the junction of Yio Chu Kang Road and Upper Thomson Road, the small quiet neighbourhood of Teachers’ Housing Estate was first developed in 1967 by the Singapore Teachers’ Union (STU), a teachers’ organisation that was established back in 1946.
The aim then was to provide the teachers in the sixties an opportunity to purchase their own homes within their income brackets. To make the houses affordable, a 20-acre site for the estate was chosen at the end of Yio Chu Kang Road (near Yio Chu Kang Road 12 Milestone), which was previously occupied by a Chinese kampong known as Hup Choon Kek (合春阁).
Taking charge of the housing project, it was difficult for STU at first, as it had no prior experience in managing housing projects and contractors. Moreover, the teachers would need loans in order to purchase the houses. For this, STU managed to negotiate with the Ministry of Finance to extend a $5 million loan to the teachers.
256 terrace houses at Teachers’ Estate were completed by 1968, and were available for prices between $23,000 and $25,000. Even for these “low” prices, as compared to other terrace houses in other parts of Singapore during the same era, they were still large sums of money for the teachers, whose average monthly salaries ranged between $325 and $690. Most of the teachers had to apply loans up to 80% of the houses’ asking prices. Eventually, more than 70% of the houses were sold to the teachers, while the remaining were put up for sale to the public.
The success of the Teachers’ Estate was well-received. In 1970, they even became one of the places in Singapore toured and studied by a Japanese delegation made up of union leaders and teachers.
By 1984, the STU planned to develop another similar teachers’ housing estate at Bukit Timah. There would be around 70 terrace houses, priced between $550,000 and $600,000, at the new site. The project, however, fell through when the developer sold the freehold land to other bidders.
In the late sixties and seventies, several kampongs, such as Yio Chu Kang Village (Yio Chu Kang Road), Hainan Village (Upper Thomson Road), Lak Shun (Lentor Drive) and Boh Sua Tian (Yio Chu Kang Road), existed near Teachers’ Estate.
As the teachers were teaching at the schools during the day time, they often depended on babysitters and washerwomen from these nearby villages. There were also no provision shops or markets at Teachers’ Estate; the nearest were the villages’ grocery stores. Sometimes, the residents would buy their groceries from mobile grocery vans that dropped by the housing estate.
The Yio Chu Kang Road of the sixties and seventies was narrower and more winding as compared to the road today. It was a dual carriageway of single lanes, flanked by wooden houses with zinc roofs on its both sides. The traffic was particularly busy at certain sections of Yio Chu Kang Road where the larger villages were located.
Due to the development of Ang Mo Kio New Town, Yio Chu Kang Road was realigned and widened in the early eighties. A short section of the road, located just beside the Teachers’ Estate, was retained and renamed Old Yio Chu Kang Road.
The Teachers’ Estate had its fair share of issues in the early seventies. As most of the teachers were out working during the daytime, their middle-class estate and houses became an attractive target for thieves and burglars. Break-ins were common, and many residents resorted to security alarm installation for their homes. Due to the frequent sounding of the alarms, the housing estate became commonly known as the “Whistling Estate”.
A row of double-storey shophouses were built at Teachers’ Estate in the seventies, providing some convenience to the residents. Minimarts and even Fitzpatrick’s, a popular supermarket chain, had their outlets opened here. The shophouses are still around today; they are currently made up of a bakery and confectionery shop, cafe, pet store and even a church.
In October 1971, former Education Minister Lim Kim San was invited for the official opening of a recreation park called Teachers’ Park at the estate.
At the same time, he also officiated the laying of the foundation stone for the new $2-million Teachers’ Centre. Located beside the park, it was a multi-purpose building designed with offices, hall, swimming pool, library, coffee house and an auditorium that allowed seminars and courses to be held regularly.
Part of the building fund for the Teachers’ Centre was collected through the monthly contributions by the teachers. Another portion of the amount was raised through a series of fund-raising campaigns in walkathon, trishaw rides and film premiers, organised by the teachers between 1971 and 1973.
The Teachers’ Centre lasted until the early 2010s, when it made way for a new 99-year leasehold private housing development called Poets Villas.
The most unique feature of Teachers’ Estate is the names of its inner roads. Named after famous poets, writers and philosophers in history, the roads’ names added a literary touch to the housing estate during its initial development. The roads are called:
- Munshi Abdullah Avenue/Walk – Named after Munshi Abdullah (1797-1854), known as the father of Malay literature.
- Omar Khayyam Avenue – Named after Omar Khayyam (1048-1131), a Persian poet and philosopher.
- Kalidasa Avenue – Named after Kalidasa, a 4th-century Sanskrit writer regarded as one of the greatest in India.
- Tagore Avenue – Named after Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941), a Bengali poet, writer and Nobel Prize winner in literature.
- Iqbal Avenue – Named after Muhammad Iqbal (1877-1938), regarded as the national poet and spiritual father of Pakistan.
- Tu Fu Avenue – Named after Du Fu (杜甫) (712-770), a Chinese poet of the Tang Dynasty.
- Li Po Avenue – Named after Li Bai (李白) (701-762), who, together with Du Fu, was regarded one of the greatest Chinese poets.
- Tung Po Avenue – Named after Su Dong Po (苏东坡) (1037-1101), a Chinese poet, writer and calligrapher of the Song Dynasty.
The Teachers’ Estate has largely remained the same quiet neighbourhood in the past decades despite the changes in its surroundings. Most of the nearby villages were gone by the eighties, and public flats and private condos began to pop up in the vicinity.
A little trivia happened in 1986, though, when numerous residents of the Teachers’ Estate got into a publicised row with the neighbouring Green Meadows Condominium. The flare-up was caused by the closure of a private access road, linking Upper Thomson Road to Tagore Avenue, by the condo management. The Teachers’ Estate residents had been using this access road as a shortcut to their homes, and its closure meant they would need to take a longer route, via Yio Chu Kang Road, to get home.
In 2004, the Teachers’ Housing Estate, being the oldest private estate in the Nee Soon South Division, was given an Estate Upgrading Program (EUP) funded by the government. The upgrading project cost about $1.2 million.
Published: 28 July 2020