Carrie Lam’s proposed rental scheme for the needy gets mixed reaction

Critics said allowing Home Ownership Scheme beneficiaries to rent out their flats through social enterprises would be unfair to owners who paid the land premium

PUBLISHED : Monday, 27 February, 2017, 11:21pm
UPDATED : Monday, 27 February, 2017, 11:39pm

Chief executive contender Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor has ­proposed allowing 250,000 Home Ownership Scheme (HOS) beneficiaries to rent out their flats to the underprivileged through social enterprises.

However, critics said the idea was unfair to homeowners who have paid the land premium and that the proposal was difficult to ­enforce due to the involvement of social enterprises.

In her election manifesto ­announcement yesterday, Lam said there were 250,000 HOS flats whose owners had not paid the land premium, which amounts to 30 per cent of a flat’s value.

“I propose to study a trial scheme which allows those HOS homeowners who haven’t paid the land premium to rent out their flats to the needy through cooperation with social enterprises, so as to increase the mobility of the HOS rental market,” she said.

However, Wong Leung-sing, associate director of research at property agency Centaline, cast doubt over the idea’s feasibility, saying the scheme was unfair to those who had already paid the premium.

“This will be a very complicated matter doomed to meet a lot of challenges. Carrie Lam doesn’t have a good grasp of this ­concept,” he said.

“Social enterprises are not welfare organisations. They are ­allowed to make profits. But why are they allowed to decide who can be the tenants? This will only constitute an unfair competition in the market,” he argued.

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Dr Kee Chi-hing, chairman of non-profit organisation Fullness Society Enterprises Society, ­believed the idea originated from social enterprises which worked with some property owners to rent out the units to the needy, single mothers for example, at a very cheap rate.

“The intention is good. There is no harm giving it a try. If we never try we will never know how many people will benefit,” he said.

But he suggested that the government should set out the criteria with supporting measures to improve upward mobility for the underprivileged.

“The purpose is not just to provide the needy with affordable rental housing. There should also be supporting services to help them resolve their problems, such as family and employment problems,” he said.

Housing Authority Subsidised Housing Committee member Anthony Chiu Kwok-wai said there was no need to involve social ­enterprises.

“The government can set the priority of the eligible tenants and prescribe only those who are on the queue for public housing as ­eligible. It can ensure the needy’s living standards [are improved],” he suggested.

Chiu agreed that the rent should be 30 per cent lower than the market rate, otherwise it would be unfair to others who paid the land premium.

Authority member Stanley Wong Yuen-fai said there were two hurdles that had to be overcome: legislative amendments and the definition of criteria for the eligible tenants, which he said made the scheme controversial and harder to enforce.