Consultation paper on subsidising home ownership biased, critics say

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 02 June, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 02 June, 2010, 12:00am

Critics have lashed a government consultation exercise to collect views on subsidising home ownership, saying the framework is biased and lacks substance.

A 54-page document, titled 'Public Consultation on Subsidising Home Ownership', was posted on a Transport and Housing Bureau website yesterday.

It seeks to gauge public opinion by asking three key questions: should home ownership be subsidised? Who should be helped? What help should be offered?

The data-filled document looks at the home market in the city and previous subsidised housing policies such as the Home Ownership Scheme (HOS) and home loan schemes.

'When deliberating on whether and how the government should subsidise home ownership, we consider it necessary to bear in mind the following factors: land resources implications, production lead time for subsidised housing, sustainability and fair use of public resources,' the document says.

Speaking after a Housing Authority session attended by housing minister Eva Cheng yesterday, member and legislator Fred Li Wah-ming said the framework was biased.

'It has not included the number of HOS flats purchased by public rental estate tenants, as well as the advantages of building HOS flats,' he said.

Another member, Wong Kwok-kin, also challenged the document.

'Because the government doesn't want to resume the HOS, the direction and the way it named the consultation is 'subsidising home ownership', which is something many people are against,' Wong said.

'However, the resumption of the HOS involves two important issues. First, it gives the richer public rental housing tenants a revolving door to vacant their flats by buying HOS flats that are more affordable than private flats ... and assists those who are not eligible for public rental flats but too poor for private properties to have a place to stay,' he said.

Despite no concrete proposals in the document, Wong said 'the questions themselves already show the mindset of the government'.

Lo Chau, of the Hong Kong People's Council on Housing Policy, said the government had 'twisted the focus of discussion by shirking its responsibility to improve people's living standards'.

'It misleads the public to wonder why one certain group should get government assistance.'

Saying the document lacked substance, one person who wants to become a flat owner said: 'It just simply gives us a blank paper and asks us to teach [the officials] how the government should be run.'

But the housing minister said the government had no prerequisites. 'Any proposal can be considered but, of course, we have to take into account its sustainability in the long run,' Cheng said.

The consultation exercise, which runs until September 17, comes after repeated calls to resume the HOS amid property prices rising 30 per cent in 15 months since early last year. Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen is expected to address the issue in his policy address in October.

Apart from sending views through e-mails, fax or by post, people can voice their opinion on an online forum and a Facebook page entitled 'Subsidising Home Ownership - Consultation' set up by the housing bureau. Public forums will be held.