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Hong Kong housing

This time authorities must act on public housing abuse

The public does not want another round of ‘talk but no action’ on those who are too wealthy to continue to live in government housing

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 06 November, 2016, 1:51am
UPDATED : Sunday, 06 November, 2016, 1:51am

Officials like to portray themselves as troubleshooters. While they may come up with a wealth of ideas to show that some long-standing problems are being tackled proactively, there may never be decisions, let alone progress or results. The move to tighten measures against public housing abuses risks running into such a situation.

Having been stalled for two years amid resistance, the proposed crackdown on “well-off” households is back on the Housing Authority agenda. Currently, these tenants will be evicted only when both the income and asset limits have been exceeded. The income threshold for a single tenant is HK$32,910, or three times the income limit for public housing single applicants. The assets cap is HK$930,000, equivalent to 84 times of that for applicants. Under the proposals put forward for discussion in a brainstorming session, action will be taken when either the income or assets limit has been exceeded. But the caps may also be raised to five and 100 times, respectively.

Public housing policy shake-up could slash wait times, but there’s bad news for existing tenants

By unbundling the two limits, it will be easier for the authority to trigger enforcement action. But whether the caps should be relaxed at the same time is open to debate. The original limits – at three and 84 times those of prospective tenants, already look far too relaxed. The proposed caps look even more generous. It has to be asked whether someone earning up to HK$54,850 a month should still be allowed to stay.

Subsidised flats are precious public resources. They are built for low income earners who cannot afford private housing. With some 290,000 applicants in the queue and 4.1 years of waiting on average, it is hardly acceptable if well-off tenants can continue to take advantage of government subsidies. Not only is it an abuse of public resources, it does not do justice to those in the queue.

Fair allocation of public resources is the hallmark of good governance.The authority, while agreeing in principle to crack down on abuses, remains non-committal on a clear enforcement timetable. The last thing the public wants is all talk but no action.