Jake's View
PUBLISHED : Thursday, 31 October, 2013, 2:52am
UPDATED : Thursday, 31 October, 2013, 4:30pm

The young and the restless star on public housing list

It's fine if the under-30s want to spread their wings, but they can do so on their own without clogging a system designed to help the needy

BIO

Jake van der Kamp is a native of the Netherlands, a Canadian citizen, and a longtime Hong Kong resident. He started as a South China Morning Post business reporter in 1978, soon made a career change to investment analyst and returned to the newspaper in 1998 as a financial columnist.
 

Today a series of excerpts on the waiting list for public housing from the appendices of last month's Long Term Housing Strategy Consultation Document:

"According to administrative record, 31,700 non-elderly one-person applicants were newly registered on the WL (waiting list) in 2011/12, accounting for 51% of all new registrations during the year. At the first quarter of 2012, the number of non-elderly one-person applicants reached 88,300, representing 47% of all WL applicants."

In just two months these figures will be two years out of date, which is pushing it a little for what is meant to be a super-big public consultation. Given the trends, however, I think it certain that more than half the waiting list is now consisted of young singles.

"The average age of the newly registered non-elderly one-person applicants gradually declined from 37 in 2008 to 30 in 2012. This was mainly due to the increasing proportion of those aged below 30, which rose from 34% to 64% in the period."

Take note of how rapidly the age of new applicants dropped in just four years with all the under-30s coming in. At this rate we shall pretty soon have to rename it the student housing waiting list.

"45% of the non-elderly one-person applicants lived in private permanent housing while 23% lived in subsidised sale flats and 29% in PRH (public rental housing). Around 2% of them lived in temporary housing, quarters, institutions, etc."

I shall accept that most of these people still live in their parents' homes and have legitimate aspirations to their own. However, this still leaves the debate as one of housing independence rather than of housing shortage. Only 2 per cent of these younger singles do not already live in formal permanent housing.

"34% of the non-elderly one-person applicants had post-secondary education or above. The corresponding proportion for those aged below 30 steadily increased from 40% in 2010 to 55% in 2012."

The Housing Authority should put some effort into weeding them out of the list

The steering committee for the consultation did not miss the obvious point about this statistic. These people have good prospects of upward mobility, it said, and on graduation are likely to enjoy incomes exceeding the limit for the waiting list. The Housing Authority should put some effort into weeding them out of the list. Public housing should be reserved for people with greater need. Yes indeed.

"23% of the non-elderly one-person applicants were students at the time of registration. The corresponding percentage was 43% for those aged below 30."

Ditto.

"For non-elderly one-person applicants, 'want to live alone' remained as the main reason for applying PRH. In 2012, 68% of the non-elderly one-person applicants quoted this reason. The corresponding percentage for those aged below 30 was 76%."

I fully appreciate the sentiment. People in their 20s want to spread their wings and don't want to live with Mom and Dad any longer. It's natural. But what I don't see is why this should be made an obligation on other people without even the slightest family connection. Spread your wings indeed, kids. Spread them yourselves. You haven't really left the nest unless you have left it on your own.

"Around 30% of the non-elderly one-person applicants quoted 'small living area of present accommodation' as the reason for applying for PRH. On the other hand, 22% of those aged 30 or above quoted the reason of 'high rent of present accommodation'".

How odd that the attraction of public housing should be availability of more space.

But with average floor area per occupant now running at 13 square metres, up from an initial target of seven, it just may be true for many people.

Once again, however, this moves the focus of the debate away from homelessness. It's now convenience.

And as to that "high rent of present accommodation", the Housing Authority's latest annual report reveals that the average rent for a public housing flat is just HK$1,223 a month.

Of course anything else looks high in relation.

So there you have it.

More than half the waiting list is made up of young singles who are disproportionately well educated with good career prospects and who already live in decent homes but want to be fully independent and are attracted to public housing by its relative spaciousness and low rents.

Methinks that perhaps the dire housing shortage is not really so dire.

jake.vanderkamp@scmp.com

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