Call to scrap middle-income housing purchase scheme

Plan to help middle-income families own homes by offering them discounts on flats will push up property prices, lawmakers say

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 06 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 26 October, 2016, 2:38pm

A handful of lawmakers have called for the abolition of a scheme - widely praised last year - aimed at helping middle-income families buy used flats under the home ownership scheme (HOS).

At a housing panel meeting yesterday, members voted 9-5 to pass a motion calling on the government to shelve the plan. The motion is not legally binding.

Opposition legislators said the scheme, first mentioned by Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying in his election platform, was an attempt to further shore up the private property market.

Under the plan, each year, up to 5,000 eligible middle-income families who are renting private flats will be allowed to buy second-hand HOS flats at a discount. The scheme is now open only to tenants in public housing.

Unionist legislator Leung Yiu-chung, of Neighbourhood and Workers Service Centre, who moved the motion, said the proposed scheme was impractical.

"It serves no purpose except to push up prices of second-hand HOS flats," he said.

Civic Party legislator Alan Leong Kah-kit agreed: "The scheme encourages people to buy. It goes against the policy of having special stamp duties to cool the market."

Secretary for Transport and Housing, Professor Anthony Cheung Bing-leung, said the government would heed the panel's views, but indicated no intention to halt the scheme. At the panel meeting, Cheung said the government was aware of the concerns about possible speculative activities on the HOS market.

In a paper tabled to the panel yesterday, the Housing Department said the annual quota of 5,000 was unlikely to have big impacts on the market, given the more than 250,000 HOS flats that can be available for trade under the scheme.

It also said there would be resale restrictions banning buyers from reselling their HOS flats within the first two years of the transaction.

Legislator Ip Kwok-him, of the government-friendly Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, expressed his support for the scheme.

"It is to offer one more option for homebuyers to consider," he said. "I see no reason we should deprive them of the choice."

Former chief executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen had announced last year that the HOS would be resumed.

In a Democratic Party poll at the time, 90.7 per cent of respondents supported extending the scheme to allow eligible middle-income families to buy second-hand HOS flats.

The party accepted then that the scheme could help more people own flats.

Meanwhile, at yesterday's meeting, members were briefed on the work of the government's new Long Term Housing Strategy steering committee, which is reviewing the city's housing needs.

Labour Party legislator Lee Cheuk-yan called the committee a delaying tactic.

"We don't need another study to know that we need to increase the housing supply," he said. "The government should instead speed up building more public units."

His party colleague, Dr Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung, called on the committee to open its meetings to make it more transparent.