Home sweet home

PUBLISHED : Friday, 03 September, 1999, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 03 September, 1999, 12:00am

Housing the constantly growing population is a challenge which has defeated every administration in this century. The latest setback came when recession destroyed Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa's ambitious plan to build 85,000 new flats a year.

Today, 140,000 applicants remain in the housing queue and are likely to stay there for years.

For obvious reasons, the Government has concentrated on housing young families. Many of them live in appalling conditions, crammed into windowless boxlike units the size of a ship's cabin. If the Government is guilty of discrimination because its housing policy largely excludes single people, there is an explanation for it. There must be some form of priority surrounding such a fundamental human need as a home, and the claims of a family of four with growing children will always take precedence over those of someone living alone.

There are rare occasions when what is necessary does not seem fair. But that does not justify other regulations which all but exclude singles from the prospect of home ownership. They do not have the benefit of pooled incomes to help build savings accounts or share household expenses. It could even be argued that, in financial terms, singles have stronger claims than married couples on the loan schemes available to families.

Moreover, the demand for one- and two-person units has soared dramatically in recent years, mainly from the ranks of middle-aged or elderly single people. Perhaps because the building programme is geared towards larger units, they face waits of up to nine years, by which time some will have died or become too frail to live alone.

The Housing Authority has said it is trying to provide small household units at redevelopment sites, but these will not be completed for another three years. Many single people, meanwhile, are living in cage homes and cubicles. As a growing sector of the community, they must be catered for.

For those who wish to buy, the solution is simpler. There is nothing to stop the Government making home loans available to all immediately. It should do so before the Equal Opportunities Commission takes the matter to the courts.