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Balance has to be struck in tackling HK's housing needs

Zoom  Zoom Issue Date:2017-11-15   Browse:878
It's amazing how a seemingly innocuous comment by Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor on public housing could have ballooned into a nagging controversy despite repeated attempts by herself and the government to clarify it.
Lam had merely said in an interview the government believes that building another 100,000 public low-cost public housing flats on top of the existing 700,000 should be sufficient to meet the demands of families that need them most, while leaving financial and land resources for the development of subsidized homes for sale at 40 percent below market prices.
What she said falls in line with the government's new housing policy that emphasizes home ownership which is exactly what many people of Hong Kong want. What's more, home ownership can help strengthen a sense of belonging that's seen lacking in the minds of many Hong Kong people.
Her comments were misinterpreted by some social activists to mean that the government is putting a ceiling on public housing. The misunderstanding has sparked a storm of public protests which show that government housing policy, undermined by past empty promises, is still viewed with suspicion despite the fresh thinking and new approach.
Senior government officials are seen to have greatly stepped up their efforts to explain to the public the reasons behind the new housing policy which appears to have moved closer to the Singapore model from what had been done in the past in Hong Kong. The concept of public housing arose from a contingent plan to hurriedly house thousands of families whose tin-roofed squatter homes were destroyed by the great fire of 1953.
Since then, the government has built many more units in large housing estates for rental at heavily subsidized rates to needy families. It has also built better quality flats, sometimes in cooperation with private developers, for sale to the public at below market prices. But, unlike Singapore, home ownership has never been a priority in the Hong Kong government's housing policy.
An ambitious housing scheme with a fresh approach was launched in 1997 to solve the acute shortage problem, leading to escalating property prices. But the plan was unceremoniously dumped after the outbreak of the Asian financial crisis that year, sending average property prices into a tailspin.
The sharp rebound in property prices in recent years has triggered a property craze. Trying to meet the needs of the many prospective homes buyers does not necessarily mean ignoring the needs of those who cannot afford to buy homes even at subsidized prices.
NF P92-503: Fire Test to Building Material (M Rating)
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