CHINA HK policymakers focusing on ways to fix housing issue


HK policymakers focusing on ways to fix housing issue

China Daily

14:53, September 24, 2019

HK Housing.jpeg

Hong Kong, with an average property price of $1.24 million, is the world's most expensive city for housing. (File photo: Xinhua)

Herman Larm Wai-leung, a member of Hong Kong's North District Council, has been an advocate in various campaigns for relieving the burdens of young local people struggling to afford apartments in the world's most expensive city for housing.

The Asian financial hub tops a ranking of 35 major cities worldwide with an average property price of more than $1.24 million, followed by Singapore, Shanghai and Vancouver, according to the latest Global Living report issued earlier this year by London-based real estate service provider CBRE Group.

However, the median monthly income for an individual in the city - a commonly used index to measure what local residents can afford - was $2,236 last year, according to the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region's Census and Statistics Department

The average rent is about $51.48 per square meter in 107 surveyed major residential areas in Hong Kong in August, according to the city's leading broker, Centaline Property.

The existing public housing policies attach more importance to families and seniors while "ignoring and framing the housing pursuits of single, young individuals", Larm, the North District Council member, told reporters on Sept 17.

This "has led to anger among many people", and may even lower their social status, Larm said.

As a sign of the dire housing issue, Lam Lok and Jason Chau, a young married couple, had to live apart in the city "because the bedroom space is simply too small for two adults and a child", BBC reported on its website on Sept 17.

Policymakers and advisers like Larm are putting more focus on the affordability for young people, as well as land supplies and the needs of low-income families, in an effort to defuse public complaints.

The real estate issue is a major cause of anxiety among the younger generations, and given the monthslong turmoil in the city, there should be no hesitation in eliminating political and industry hurdles to fixing the problem, observers said.

Residential as well as commercial properties in Hong Kong have seen their prospects dampened in the past three months as violent protesters have clashed with police, hurled gasoline bombs, committed arson and attempted to paralyze subway services.

Leung Chun-ying, vice-chairman of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, has called on the leaders of the city's housing sector to help improve Hong Kong's situation and bring the community back to tranquility, given the turmoil of recent months.

Leung, a former Hong Kong SAR chief executive, said at a reception of the Hong Kong Real Property Federation on Sept 16 that the federation, in particular, is expected to effectively serve young people and nurture and encourage them to better tap into their strengths.

Prices for residential property in Hong Kong are "more than double the prices in 1997", and in the city, which has a population of more than 7 million, "three-quarters of its land is countryside", the CBRE report says.

Wang Yiwei, a professor of international relations at Renmin University of China in Beijing, said property policy in Hong Kong is still not addressing some needs of local residents. "That's why some young people have been shifting blame to the SAR government," he said.

Following New York's Occupy Wall Street movement, Hong Kong has become another world financial center falling victim to social issues and populism, he added.

Ronnie Chan Chi-chung, board chairman of Hong Kong real estate giant Hang Lung Properties, said only 24 percent of the entirety of Hong Kong is used for residential and commercial properties and infrastructure like roads and bridges, while 41 percent is suburban parks.

In the past two decades, government efforts to increase the land supply have failed largely because of intervention by opposition parties and some property industry tycoons, Chan said in a recent interview with Shanghai-based news portal

Gordon Lam, vice-president of the Hong Kong Guangdong Youth Association, said the scarcity of land leads to a lucrative property market, and the city's property industry "has eroded the profitability of other sectors" and curbed their growth.

The city should consider building new areas in the next 10 to 20 years, revising laws for land bidding, and offering more incentives to property companies to increase supply, Lam wrote in an article published on Tuesday in Ta Kung Pao, a Hong Kong newspaper.

He called for curbing the amount of unused land taken by developers, as the four local property giants - Hang Lung Properties, New World Development, Cheung Kong Holdings and Sun Hung Kai Properties - have a total reserve of around 9.3 million square meters.

Hong Kong's Federation of Public Housing Estates issued a policy advice report on housing for young people on Sept 17, proposing measures such as lifting the mortgage threshold for first-time homebuyers between the ages of 18 and 39 and offering rent subsidies for those applying for public housing.

Matthew Cheung Kin-chung, chief secretary for administration of the Hong Kong SAR, wrote in an article on Sept 15 that the authorities may introduce a funding plan as early as the second quarter of next year so that low-income households living in shabby apartments can improve their housing conditions.

Earlier this month, the city's largest political party in the legislature - the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, or DAB - published full-page ads in local newspapers in which it urged the government to take bold moves to increase the housing supply, including implementing the controversial Lands Resumption Ordinance to take over land for public housing.

The ordinance allows the SAR's chief executive to order the requisition of any land for public purposes.

Junius Ho, a member of Hong Kong's Legislative Council, said that opposition parties have attacked the DAB's call for implementing the ordinance.

People cannot rely solely on easing the housing problems when working to fix the current situation, and "there is plenty of room for reform in other (areas) concerning public livelihood and politics", Ho wrote in a post on his microblog on Sept 18.

Once the government unveils a plan for more land supply, activist groups - some supported by opposition parties - might file lawsuits against some new public or commercial housing projects in the name of ecology or cultural relic protection, Xinhua News Agency said in a commentary.

Building affordable housing on unused land "will definitely encounter considerable twists and turns if there is no proactive push by Hong Kong residents", it added.

Hong Kong SAR Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor began speaking on Monday to local residents at the first session of a dialogue with them.

Cheung, the chief secretary for administration, expected that Lam as well as other SAR senior officials would elaborate on a range of long-lasting economic, social and political issues, including housing and land supply, wealth disparity and opportunities for young people.

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