The number of applicants for public flats under the Home Ownership Scheme (HOS) has slumped to the lowest in 16 years - but housing chiefs say the drop is not unexpected.
The Housing Authority received 18,879 applications for 6,307 new flats in four estates in Tseung Kwan O, Sha Tin, Yuen Long and Lai Chi Kok.
The number of applicants dropped 32 per cent compared with last year's figure of 28,000 recorded in May. In July 1999 it was 31,000.
Walter Chan Kar-lok, chairman of the Home Ownership Committee, said the drop had been anticipated after the Government cut the household monthly income limit to qualify under the scheme to $25,000 from $31,000 in February.
'If you take those disqualified families out, you will see why there is a drop in demand,' he said.
Mr Chan said there were more alternatives on the market now for flat buyers and this partly explained the fall in the number of applicants.
But he maintained there was a need for the Government to continue the scheme, which he believed was still popular among low-income families.
'The number of applicants is still three times that of supply. We see there is a real need in the market,' he said.
Mr Chan said the price of the HOS flats must be affordable for applicants and that would be the main consideration when deciding the price.
He said that the Government had tightened the income limit to draw a clear line between the public and private markets.
'The private market fluctuates greatly. We focus on helping those in real need.'
Applicants said the drop in the numbers applying had made it much easier for them to buy a flat.
One housewife said she preferred HOS flats to private ones because the interest rate was cheaper and no down-payment was needed. 'It is more affordable and the financial burden is less severe,' she said.