Final address must tackle housing issue
Joyce Ng and Stuart Lau
Hongkongers believe housing is the most pressing matter Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen must deal with in his policy address today, a university poll has found.
The finding coincides with a call by two former planning chiefs for a long-term housing policy backed up by a demand forecast, a system that was shelved during the economic downturn in 2003.
In a random telephone survey conducted by the University of Hong Kong's public opinion programme since September, 69 per cent of about 1,000 respondents said housing was a 'very important' issue for Tsang to address, followed by health care policy (60 per cent).
Tsang, in a rare admission, said in a radio programme on Saturday there had been shortcomings in government policies over the past few years that had contributed to soaring property prices and made homes unaffordable. He said the government and business had 'overreacted' to the financial crisis in 1998 by calling a halt to all plans for assisted home purchases. Yesterday, former chief secretary Henry Tang Ying-yen admitted he shared responsibility for this, having been a senior public servant for the past nine years.
In his policy address, Tsang is expected to announce the revival of the Home Ownership Scheme (HOS), shelved in 2002, with the first batch of about 5,000 subsidised flats ready for sale in 2016.
But Peter Pun Kwok-shing, who retired as director of planning in 1999, said a housing demand forecast also needed to be resurrected. Pun recalled that the colonial government and former chief executive Tung Chee-hwa's administration both had a steering committee on land supply to look for sites for housing.
Tung's committee, chaired by Tsang as financial secretary, would meet relevant government departments every two to three weeks to identify sites to meet the controversial 85,000-flats-a-year target announced by Tung in 1997.
The committee was fed with statistics from a housing-demand model operated by the Planning Department, which worked with factors including population and income growth, marriages, immigration from the mainland, and the clearance of squatters. It categorised needs into those for public and private housing. 'The forecast, though based on many assumptions which could turn out to be wrong, is necessary. You have a general idea how many to build and when to get land ready,' Pun said.
Former assistant director of planning Tam Po-yiu agreed that the demand forecast needed to be reinstated. He said it had failed because 'there was no communication between planning and housing officials from 2003'.
Lawrence Poon Wing-cheung, a spokesman for the Institute of Surveyors, said the government should learn a lesson and come up with a housing strategy that would not to be swayed by economic cycles.