Call for review of HOS flat sale ban
Market does not need help, say authority members
Members of the Housing Authority have proposed resuming the sale of subsidised Home Ownership Scheme (HOS) flats to public tenants, saying that lifting the ban would not hurt the private sector.
They believe the government no longer needs to use the suspension of sales as a tool to prop up the housing sector because property prices are recovering.
Authority member Chan Kam-lam said: 'We are not suggesting dumping the flats into the market all at once, but putting on offer, say, 1,000 units a year, and confining the sale to public tenants.
'The market situation has changed and the ban should also be reviewed accordingly to meet the latest needs,' said Mr Chan, who cited recent land sale results as a sign of the return of a warming market.
Mr Chan, also the chairman of the Legislative Council housing panel, said he would raise the issue with the government at a panel meeting later.
The ban, imposed in 2002 without consulting the authority, was part of a package to boost the private property market. It was not supposed to be lifted until the end of 2006.
About 16,000 HOS units have been left vacant because of the ban.
Previously, there were proposals to convert some flats into hotels for mainland tourists.
The idea was understood to have secured the backing of a number of authority members, including Centaline Property Holdings chairman Shih Wing-ching, at a recent meeting.
Fellow authority member Wong Kwan said offering HOS flats to better-off public tenants could also help vacate more public rental units for the needy on the waiting list.
At present, the waiting time for public housing is about two years.
The Democratic Party's housing affairs spokesman, Albert Ho Chun-yan, said his party supported the idea, adding it could also help ease the financial difficulties faced by the authority brought about by the ban.
'The HOS has a function to stabilise the private market and it should not have been halted in the first place. And HOS is also a good source of revenue for the authority,' said Mr Ho.
But Centaline Property Agency senior research manager Wong Leung-sing called for caution, saying public confidence in the government housing policy could be shaken if it changed without good reason.
The government so far has been reluctant to review the ban.
Official figures showed flat prices last month were still 55 per cent down on September 1997.