Housing chief Eva Cheng Yu-wah sounded a cautious note yesterday on reviving a subsidised housing scheme which has been suspended for five years.
The minister told the Legislative Council's housing panel that relaunching the Home Ownership Scheme (HOS) would have a significant social impact.
Thorough consultation was needed before any policy change, she said, although the government had not yet set a consultation timetable.
In 2002, the government stopped the scheme which was launched in 1978 to provide low-cost accommodation to families on low incomes.
Some members of the Housing Authority, which advises the administration on public housing policy, recently called for the scheme to be resumed in the wake of spiralling private housing prices.
Ms Cheng said the government would examine the availability of affordable flats and public opinion before considering relaunching the scheme.
She noted that over the past few years, flat transactions of HK$2 million or below accounted for about 60 per cent of the deals in the private property market.
But the remaining HOS flats on sale received a lukewarm response from tenants of public rental flats.
'We reserved about 10,000 HOS units for green-form applicants who live in public rental flats, but only 40 per cent of the units received applications from public housing tenants,' Ms Cheng said.
She added that the rest of the applicants were also below the income and asset limits required by the scheme, but earned more than green-form applicants.
'It would be a waste if we build more HOS flats with less attraction to the people we want to help.'
Her comments sparked criticism from lawmakers who urged the scheme's resumption.
The Civic Party's Alan Leong Kah-kit said it was hard to say how many buyers of private low-priced flats were qualified public tenants. 'It is not justified to say the supply of low-priced flats is abundant without having detailed figures about the buyers,' he said. 'I also cannot see the influence mentioned by Ms Cheng that a resumption of the scheme would have on the economy.'
Lau Kong-wah of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong predicted a dramatic increase in property prices over the year to come.
'The government should take measures to ensure the stable development of the property market, such as increasing the supply of low-priced flats,' he said.
Ms Cheng said the role of the government was different from a property developer, as its primary purpose was to make sure people on low incomes had a place to live in instead of encouraging them to buy flats.
The housing chief promised to examine market trends before consulting the public.