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Hong Kong housing

Rent control, subsidies dismissed for Hong Kong – ‘but we’ll build more flats’, leader Carrie Lam says

Measures would backfire and only worsen housing problems, chief executive says

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 28 March, 2018, 3:38pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 28 March, 2018, 10:42pm

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor on Wednesday ruled out rent control or subsidies to help residents struggling with a booming housing market, saying they would backfire and only worsen the city’s problems.

Instead the chief executive pledged to find ways to increase land supply for the construction of new flats.

She dismissed accusations that she had “pitted environmental groups against the city’s grass-roots community” in a prior debate on Saturday about balancing the need for public housing with environmental protection.

Lam answered questions from 10 lawmakers on Wednesday during her monthly 30-minute Q&A session at the Legislative Council. The group included four legislators newly elected in a by-election on March 11.

One of those four, pro-establishment lawmaker Vincent Cheng Wing-shun, asked whether the government would consider subsidising rents in the private market to make life easier for lower-income families.

“Will the government do something for the more than 90,000 families or individuals living in subdivided flats, to alleviate their burden?” he said.

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But Lam countered that a “direct subsidy would only benefit property owners, not the tenants, so we need to be very cautious”.

Hong Kong officials have previously voiced the view that an official rent subsidy would only prompt property owners to increase rents accordingly.

The government had instead been offering assistance by making it easier for low-income residents to apply for the Working Family Allowance, Lam said on Wednesday.

However, Federation of Trade Unions lawmaker Michael Luk Chung-hung said a rent subsidy would be effective if there were rent controls in place as well to curb unreasonable increases.

Lam also dismissed that idea.

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“If we imposed rent control, I would be afraid that even the number of available units for rent would drop,” she said.

On Saturday Lam had spoken of conflicting interests when it came to land use in the city.

“Some environmental groups say to me that they are against land reclamation and want to speak up for the harbour, which cannot speak for itself,” Lam said. “I said in response that there are many children living in extremely poor conditions, and they may not know how to voice their plight either.”

On Wednesday Democratic Party lawmaker Andrew Wan Siu-kin asked why Lam had to “place environmental groups and children living in subdivided flats in confrontation with one another?”

“Why didn’t you compare children’s housing rights with Fanling golf course, or put those two on confronting sides?”

Wan was referring to a 172-hectare golf course in the New Territories run by the Hong Kong Golf Club, which some have been eyeing as land for housing.

Lam insisted she had merely been explaining Hong Kong’s housing shortage at an appropriate venue – a government summit on poverty and housing.

“I was not targeting environmental groups ... or saying it must be wrong to oppose land reclamation,” she said.

A 30-member task force responsible for evaluating options for land would be engaging with the community on more than 10 proposals to expand supply, Lam added, including redevelopment of recreational sites such as golf courses.