Hong Kong housing

‘Starter Homes’ plan may offer prices ‘lower than half of Hong Kong market rate’

Task force to submit report on land supply in September next year

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 07 September, 2017, 1:07pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 07 September, 2017, 11:30pm

A no-frills government-subsidised property scheme for young, first-time home buyers in Hong Kong might offer prices lower than half the market rate, a member of the Housing Authority said on Thursday.

Stanley Wong Yuen-fai said on radio that Hongkongers widely expected a scheme which would provide subsidised housing based on affordability instead of market price.

“If [the prices] are set based on affordability, we have reasons to believe that they will be roughly half the market rate ... or even lower,” he said.

The “Starter Homes” scheme was an election pledge by Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor to help young families unable to get on the city’s property ladder – those who cannot afford private housing but who earn too much to qualify for renting public flats.

Hong Kong’s private residential property prices have surged for 13 months in a row, making the city – already the world’s priciest home market – even more unaffordable.

Wong said the scheme, expected to be highlighted in Lam’s policy address in October, had not been discussed within the authority, which builds and manages public housing estates. But he was confident the body would have enough public housing expertise to handle the project.

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Those who had previously bought a government-subsidised flat or owned any other property would not be eligible for the scheme, Lam said earlier.

Wong said there could be limitations on the resale of these flats, such as the homes only being sold back to the government at original prices.

Wong, also chairman of a government task force on land supply, added that the panel would first discuss about 12 plans proposed by different bodies before putting them up for public consultation in the first and second quarters of next year.

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Following that, the task force would draft a report in July next year and submit it around September, he said.

The committee’s work must eventually achieve the goal of sourcing enough land for a projected shortage of 1,200 hectares, taking into account economic and housing development until 2030 and beyond.

But Wong added that if a public consultation reached a consensus that Hong Kong would not need as much land, the panel would reflect this in its report.

Some of the 12 proposals, such as developing the fringes of protected country parks, reclamation outside Victoria Harbour and filling in the Plover Cove Reservoir, would be a hard sell.

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At a forum on Wednesday ahead of the task force’s first meeting, Lam put forward several questions for the group: “Ask society, when we have thousands of children living in [appalling conditions], can we really not undertake some reclamation outside Victoria Harbour?

“Can we really not explore using some of the margins of country parks? Can we not ­enhance our efforts in resuming land and clearing some of the cottage areas in the rural New Territories to provide decent housing? These are questions that we all must answer.”

Wong stressed that the panel would not be biased towards any proposals during the discussion and public engagement, and that they would not influence public opinion.

Meanwhile, 27 conservationists and land activists on Thursday formed an alternative task force on land supply with a self-imposed mission not to allow the government to monopolise public views.

The newly formed Citizens Task Force on Land Resources, is chaired by Paul Zimmerman, a green advocate and Southern district councillor, who denied it was set up to counter the government one.

“We can work together. We don’t have to oppose, and we don’t see ourselves as in conflict,” he said. “Our objective is to broaden the discussion on land resources in Hong Kong and bring more people into the debate.”

One member, localist lawmaker Eddie Chu Hoi-dick, said the government task force was not representative enough as many of its members were from property-related sectors or advocates of developing country park land for housing.

Chu expected the government task force to overlook elements such as sustainable development, population policy, and public participation in town planning, during their discussion.

The 12 land proposals:

Developing sites on short-term tenancy, temporary government land allocation and “undetermined” land use zones

Tapping into the land reserves of private property developers

More reclamation outside Victoria Harbour

Reclaiming reservoirs

Making alternative use of private recreation sites

Relocation or consolidation of big recreation facilities

Developing “village-type development” zones

Relocation of the Kwai Tsing Container Terminals

Building housing above the container terminals

Developing country parks

Expediting the development of “comprehensive development area” sites

Developing military sites