Home ownership must not be ever-elusive

PUBLISHED : Monday, 11 October, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 11 October, 2010, 12:00am

Last week, the University of Hong Kong Social Sciences Research Centre released results of a survey into people's hopes towards buying property. The news is bleak. About 60 per cent of the 1,063 respondents feel 'no hope' of being able to buy a house within the next 10 years if price levels remain where they are. Fewer than half the respondents believe they will own any property in an unspecified future even if they save regularly. This is perhaps nothing new - that property prices are as high as our skyscrapers, or that a significant proportion of the population feel that property ownership is a very distant consideration.

Nonetheless, the number of people who feel 'no hope' in owning property with prices remaining at this level is alarming. When people begin to feel they have no chance of crossing that gulf between the unpropertied to the propertied class, the incentive to work, innovate and equip oneself with more professional skills weakens. Property ownership used to be an aspiration. Now, some people do not even bother dreaming about it.

The social effects of this trend are still unclear. Other financial centres, such as London, New York and Tokyo face similar challenges without any definable social consequence. Tokyo, in particular, shares Hong Kong's problem where its properties are not only expensive, but also incredibly small. The pessimism is not confined to owning property, but with it, pessimism over marriage, children, building a home, and laying down roots in a particular neighbourhood. It is difficult to see how the government can succeed in encouraging greater civic responsibility, whether it is to vote for your district councillor, or to better manage energy use in the house and waste disposal, if many of us can shrug our shoulders and say 'this is not my home'. The saying 'a man's home is his castle' is often cited as a constitutional concept which contributes to a harmonious society based on the desire to protect and improve one's home. When people no longer dream of building their own home, the glue that binds society loses some of its strength.