Addressing housing shortage is the right priority for CY Leung

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 09 February, 2014, 2:56am
UPDATED : Monday, 10 February, 2014, 4:49pm

Our chief executive has set his priorities right by channelling resources to those most in need - the poor, elderly and minority groups.

Many among us often criticise the government for not doing enough for the poor, while some others would conveniently argue against creating a welfare society. The administration recently drew up a poverty line and Leung Chun-ying's policy address underscores its commitment.

The claim that the middle class is being left out cannot be true as Mr Leung made housing his top priority when running for the post. His policy address put emphasis on solving the housing supply shortage by increasing land supply, building more affordable public housing and maintaining the imposed property taxes and duties on speculative transactions, and on foreigners.

Solving the unaffordable housing crisis here also comes with much criticism, with many claiming interventionist measures will make Hong Kong lose its competitiveness and economic freedom. Also, environmentalist and interest groups strongly oppose the government when it comes to rezoning green belts or increasing development density.

What about the environment and living conditions of the many poor families, children and elderly living in appalling conditions in subdivided flats? Hong Kong covers 1,100 square kilometres - nearly twice the size of Singapore - and only about a quarter of our land has been paved with infrastructure. There is abundant land for further development. Tax increases and a goods and sales tax can still be postponed, as far as the budget allows, but the housing shortage is critical.

Building more homes takes time, and making housing affordable to the grass roots is a process that helps the middle class; as the city's economic wealth is distributed through home ownership. Mr Leung should be given a stronger political mandate to obtain more land.

The other less prudent option in the name of economic freedom and so-called pro-business is to keep supply tight, to prevent prices falling and allow private property developers to control an overpriced housing market, as we saw with the previous administration.

Finally, on democracy, we should work within the "one country, two systems" framework. Extreme actions by radical democrats will only make the central government keep a tighter lid here. It's time to work with our chief executive on livelihood and political issues.

Bernard E. S. Lee, Tsuen Wan