Policy address failed to deal with problem of small firms facing skyrocketing rents

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 20 October, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 20 October, 2011, 12:00am


In this year's policy address, the government has reaffirmed its commitment to helping the underprivileged.

To this end, it has pledged a number of one-off relief measures, one of which as Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen pointed out in his speech will be payment of 'two months' rent for around 700,000 public housing tenants, with an expenditure of about [HK]$1.9 billion'.

While this is a boon for those living in public housing, lower class families not qualifying for subsidies are left out in the cold.

Instead of providing further aid for those who are already being helped, perhaps the government should focus its attention on helping those seriously affected by skyrocketing rents in the public and small-business sectors.

To begin with, it is becoming increasingly common for flats of 400 sq ft to 500 sq ft to be rented out for prices upwards of HK$10,000 a month. For households earning less than HK$15,000 a month, these exorbitant prices make it difficult to make ends meet, let alone put aside money for the future.

Also, with flat speculation running rampant and only nominally regulated, the poor are continually gouged for all they are worth. For instance, if a person buys a flat for HK$2 million, he may consider HK$8,000 per month to be a good rent. However, if someone else later buys the same flat at a higher price, he will obviously want to set a higher rent. Unchecked speculation is hurting not only lower-income homebuyers, but also those who rent.

As a small-business owner, I am witness to the exploitative practices of commercial landlords. The more profit the tenant makes, the higher the rent increase will be.

There are some cases where building owners have increased a flat's rent by 100 per cent simply because the tenant's business is doing well. Is our society one which punishes those who work hard to climb the economic ladder while rewarding those already at the top?

Helping those on the lowest rungs of the socio-economic ladder to have a home is an excellent endeavour. However, the government should also seek ways to curb the rampant exploitation of lower classes in the public sector.

For the rental market to function properly, the government must make every effort to regulate it. There is no justification for not doing so.

Ho Kam-tong, Yuen Long