Jake's View

Just how committed is the Hong Kong government to solving the housing problem?

Here’s three solutions: Build homes on Happy Valley, or on one of Fan Ling’s three golf courses, or on the 28 hectares of land devoted to Disneyland

PUBLISHED : Monday, 12 September, 2016, 5:06pm
UPDATED : Monday, 12 September, 2016, 11:00pm

Former chief executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen has admitted he should have developed more land during his seven years in office from 2005 to 2012 but denied that a volatile property market and limited housing supply were the result of his housing policies.

- SCMP, September 8

Let’s first consider this term of office. In 1993, Bow-tie Donald was appointed Secretary of the Treasury. From there, he went on to becoming Financial Secretary, then Chief Secretary and finally Chief Executive.

I make that a period of 20 years – not seven – during which he was either the most influential person in Hong Kong’s government or very close to being so.

Now look at the chart (below) of the residential price index over this period – boom, crash, boom. It defines the term “a volatile property market” and it strongly suggests that either Donald had no housing policies or that they destabilised the market. He cannot in justice say it had nothing to do with him.

The most I think we can accept is that the blame ought to be shared with the present chief executive, Leung Chun-ying, who was housing adviser to the first chief executive, Tung Chee-hwa.

Together with Donald, you may recall, they approved a plan for a massive surge in public housing, which reached the market just as it was crashing.

Donald then called off the surge only to have C.Y. call it on again seven years later, when home prices had risen almost fourfold from the bottom.

What is common to this story, other than the obvious lesson that no player in the market ever gets it quite as wrong as government does, is the general denial of responsibility.

C.Y. is singing this tune now, too, complaining that he just can’t find the land to build on and it’s not his fault.

Let’s put this into perspective. In the middle of Happy Valley, a prime residential area, lies a green field, tracks, and spectator stands used once a week for horse racing.

Let’s take that land back and build homes on it. The Jockey Club has similar once-a-week facilities in Shatin. It can now use these twice a week.

Pass me some earplugs, please. The screaming coming my way is as bad any teenage independence advocate ever gets.

Okay, we shall scrap this idea. But let’s have it straight then that we have asked for an informal show of hands and the nags have it. We prefer horses to houses. I’m not saying here that this is good or bad. I’m only saying that we ought to be honest and admit it.

Let’s try something else. The golf club has three big golf courses in Fan Ling. Could we not take one of them back to build homes for cage dwellers?

Help! Help! Sorry. I didn’t mean it. I take it back. Golf is also more important than housing. I should have known. Sorry.

Here is another idea then. We have 28 hectares of superbly located land devoted to an American themed amusement park for mainland Chinese visitors. Local people don’t go much. Once is good enough. And the mainlanders now have a bigger Disneyland of their own in Shanghai. With attendance numbers down, why don’t we ...?”

Ouch! Ow! I recant. I promise I won’t do it again. A mouse is more important than a house. I’ll write it out on the blackboard a hundred times if you insist.

And so it goes.

Our chief executives, all three of them so far, have said that decent housing is a priority but every time that the question is asked in practise it turns out that there is a higher priority.

Why can’t they just be honest and admit it?