Property policies

Hong Kong’s Urban Renewal Authority must ensure subsidised homes go to those in genuine need

By allowing singles with high incomes to apply for discounted flats, families locked out of the private market will be the ones to suffer

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 29 November, 2015, 12:17am
UPDATED : Sunday, 29 November, 2015, 6:29pm

Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying has rightly made home ownership a top policy priority.  The policy is  supported by the Urban Renewal Authority (URA), which set aside a new housing site to help eligible families.  It went a step further last week when it decided that single people earning up to HK$60,000 a month would also be eligible to buy discounted flats, raising questions on whether subsidised housing should be open to high income earners. The authority reportedly made a U-turn to include single applicants out of legal concerns. It is said to be worried that the project may be held up if a prospective single applicant files a legal challenge on the grounds of discrimination.

Currently, unjustified preferential treatment based on one’s marital or family status is banned under the Family Status Discrimination Ordinance. The Housing Authority’s subsidised flats are also open to  applicants who are single. Given housing needs  are not restricted to couples or families, single applicants may feel they are being discriminated against.  The U-turn by the URA is therefore understandable.

READ MORE: Hong Kong lawmaker says urban renewal authority too fearful of legal trouble in its policy U-turn

That said, the criteria seem exceedingly relaxed. Unlike the Housing Authority, which sets a lower income and asset limit for single applicants,  the URA imposed the same cap of HK$60,000 a month income and HK$3 million in assets on singles and families with multiple members. This is more than double the HK25,000 income ceiling for single applicants for Home Ownership Scheme flats. According to government figures, those making up to HK$60,000 a month are near the top  5 per cent of income earners. Whether they deserve subsidised housing is open to debate. They also have an equal chance of success, as unlike other subsidised schemes, there won’t be a smaller quota for single applicants. The URA is now under growing pressure to tighten the arrangements, with some board members calling for another meeting to review the details. The authority needs to rationalise the criteria so that flats  are allocated to homebuyers with genuine difficulties  entering the private market.