Blocks 45, 48 & 49 Stirling Road are were the first few blocks of flats completed in October 1960, just months after the Housing and Development Board (HDB) was formed in February 1960. They were part of the Queenstown estate that the Singapore Improvement Trust (SIT) had begun work on in the 1950s. The flats in these three seven-storey blocks were handed over to residents in 1961. The dominant presence of these blocks standing on an undeveloped piece of swampland earned the neighbourhood an amusing colloquial name, Qik Lao (Hokkien: 七楼; 7 storey).
The three seven-storey blocks were among the first batch of public housing projects launched under the HDB’s First Five-Year Programme. The HDB, which took over the role of eliminating squatters and providing low cost public housing from the SIT on 1 February 1960, had embarked on an ambitious five-year target to build approximately 50,000 units in order to quickly alleviate overcrowding in the city centre.
The late Mr Lim Kim San, then Chairman of the HDB, commented, “We will try to attain a position where we can build the most efficient unit at a minimum cost so that public housing can be brought within means of the lower income group, as well as to ensure that the cost of maintenance and repairs of these units will be reduced to a minimum over the years.”
Chua Soo Heng (b. 1955) and her family were one of the first occupants at Block 48 Stirling Road. The Chuas were survivors of the devastating Bukit Ho Swee Fire in 1961 and they were resettled into the two two-room apartment. She recalled, “The fire at Bukit Ho Swee spread very quickly and we lost our home overnight. The government brought us here in army trucks. We were lucky to get a flat.”