2012年3月20日星期二

My Commentary on Next Chief Executive's Land & Housing Platforms

Rich and poor resent developers' influence

Joyce Ng, Jennifer Ngo and Enoch Yiu
Mar 19, 2012

The next chief executive should provide more subsidised housing for people from the grass roots and stop favouring property developers. That is the consensus shared by six people - from the well-off to low-income families typical of the city - who joined a Post forum.

The city's sky-high property prices are worrying to all of them, including Peak resident William Louey Lai-keun, grandson of Kowloon Motor Bus founder Louey Sui-tak.

"For people like me who already own property, it is good news to see property prices go up," he said. "But I need to worry about the future for my son and daughter."

The six residents, who were invited by the South China Morning Post (SEHK: 0583, announcements, news) to state their views on how the next administration should steer housing policy and to comment on the candidates' platforms, criticise front runners Henry Tang Ying-yen and Leung Chun-ying for failing to provide detailed policy platforms while vowing to solve the problems of rocketing prices and a shortage of affordable housing. The six participants' living conditions range from a 50 sq ft subdivided flat in Sham Shui Po and a public rental home in Tseung Kwan O to a house on The Peak.

Tang has proposed an extra 40,000 subsidised flats be built over the next five years on top of the existing plan for 75,000 flats. Leung wants to speed up construction of public rental flats and provide more subsidised homes for the middle-class.

David Chu Kam-chuen, a public housing tenant in Ma On Shan, worried that Leung might say one thing but do something else if elected.

"I don't know if he'd be willing to step on powerful people's toes a bit to do the right thing," he said

Most respondents say the future leader should avoid favouring developers. Housing problems cannot be solved without changes in politics, say Raymond Chan, a retiree living in a Home Ownership Scheme flat. "I know a drastic overhaul of our land policy will never happen because both [candidates] need developers to vote for them to win in this small-circle election," he said.

However, engineer Jason Poon Chuk-hung, whose three flats, including his West Kowloon home, have been in negative equity since the 1998 financial crisis, said it was not good to flood the market with land for sale and new subsidised homes.


SCMP Debate

Mar 19, 2012

This fourth instalment of the chief executive debate focuses on the hot-button issue of property. Instead of hearing from the candidates, we wanted to know what you think. We talked to six residents whose living conditions vary widely - from a subdivided flat in Sham Shui Po to a house on the Peak. We asked them the same two questions...Their responses below were limited to 600 words in total and are listed, from left to right, from the resident in the most humble dwelling to the one in the most luxurious.

Q1 : What do you expect the next chief executive will do to solve problems in Hong Kong's property market, which include sky-high prices for flats and a shortage of affordable housing for grass-roots people?

Q2 : The government plans to build 75,000 flats in the next five years, an average of 15,000 a year. Chief executive candidate Leung Chun-ying has proposed that, without increasing the total supply over the five years, the first-year provision could be increased to 35,000 flats. The other leading candidate, Henry Tang Ying-yen, has promised to build an extra 40,000 subsidised flats in the next five years, including 30,000 public rental flats and 10,000 flats under the Home Ownership Scheme. What do you think about the targets set by these two candidates?


Owner of twin flat, 1,339 sq ft, Tai Kok Tsui Jason Poon Chuk-hung

A1 Living and working in peace and contentment is of major value in the city, and affordable accommodation is of the utmost importance. During the years since the handover, land and housing policies have been unsatisfactory, causing great anguish to the city, not only to grass-roots people, but to all classes except the tycoons.

Solving the problems will depend on whether the next chief executive can keep prices under control, while not flooding the market with too much land.

The city has never lacked land to build on. Tens of millions of sq ft of mature land are readily available in Chek Lap Kok Airport Island, Kai Tak district, West Kowloon district, near the border and elsewhere. I will criticise both candidates if they maintain the current application-list system for land sales, which not only leads to sky-high property prices, but also hinders the expansion of our economy and thus freezes out the grass roots and youth.

Both Leung and Tang propose a series of short to medium-term targets of building subsidised housing for the grass roots, the youth and the aged. We have 1.14 millions units of public housing accommodating half of the population already, which is a world record by percentage, and second only to Singapore. Further commitments to subsidised-housing welfare are just being made as a form of temporary populism. I would rather see the next chief executive commit to a long-term and self-sustaining policy to accommodate the expanding city.

The next chief executive should relax the legal restrictions, to allow the 380,000 existing owners of Home Ownership Scheme (HOS) flats to resell their flats more easily, and encourage more provision of affordable housing in the private sector.


A2 I feel uncomfortable seeing Leung and Tang compete in making commitments on expanding public-housing welfare. They must prove first that the government will be able to pay the bills, after the painful experience of the "85,000-flats-a-year" housing policy and post-Sars recession in the last decade.

Public expenditures on education, social welfare and the medical and health sectors are expected to be increased to meet the rising demands of a growing population. Shrinking the public-housing sector is the only way to make our public revenue more dynamic for the expansion of our economy, and thus correct resource allocation.

We have a total of 2.4 million public and private housing units at the moment. That is an average of three citizens per unit. Instead of keeping the commitment on constructing new public housing, the next chief executive must decide how to release the frozen units, especially the vacant industrial buildings and the nearly 380,000 units under the HOS.

The revenues generated from premiums paid to the government by the HOS owners on resale could be used to develop low-profit private housing for the youth and grass roots.

The next chief must review the housing functions of the Urban Renewal Authority and Housing Society. Instead of their current role as developers, they should be reformed as secondary policy units for the promotion of urban renewal, improving living standards and rehabilitation of disused buildings.

For all of us, collusion with developers is always the concern. The next chief must prove himself able to break through the suspicion of collusion and lands monopolisation.

On occasion, I hear Tang talking of a vision of "expanding our pie to accommodate growth". I find a similar vision in Leung's concept of strategic planning with the Pearl River Delta zone. But I don't see how they can realise the visions in their platforms. I am keeping my fingers crossed that the next chief executive will not just do his job, but will commit to creating a bright and sustainable future for our next generation.
 
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