My Take

Hong Kong’s shame: the wealthy who occupy public housing

For the umpteenth time, there are calls for well-off tenants to be evicted from subsidised homes, but does anyone have the guts to do it?

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 25 October, 2016, 10:31pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 25 October, 2016, 10:31pm

Here we go again. Every few years, some committee with an impressive sounding title floats the idea of cracking down on well-off tenants or families living in public housing estates.

This time, it’s the subsidised housing committee under the Housing Authority. At a brainstorming session, someone pointed out that well-off public housing tenants needed to move out in order to give priority to those with genuine need.

It’s a great idea that has often been discussed but never followed through. While it would not necessarily reduce the long waiting time that now stands at more than four years, it would make the system fairer.

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Under the system now, well-off tenants have to declare their incomes and assets periodically. They have to pay extra rent if their income exceeds a pre-set level. But they will only be kicked out if their monthly earning exceeds the public rental housing income limit by three times, and if their net assets exceed the income limit by 84 times.

Under the new proposal, tenants could be evicted if they exceed either the income or asset limits. But both criteria would be set at a higher threshold.

Well, such a rule change is long overdue. The current system has allowed high income earners like “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung, a pan-democratic legislator who is paid more than HK$93,000 a month, not counting other perks and subsidies, to live in public housing. Taxpayers have been subsidising his housing for more than the decade during which he has been a lawmaker. That’s because he claims his assets still fall below the eviction threshold.

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It’s certainly ironic – and symptomatic of the problem – that a man like Leung, who claims to be a champion of the little guy, is taking up living space that should have been reserved for people with far greater housing needs.

The queue for public housing including families, singles and the elderly is around 288,330. Meanwhile, there are about 26,000 public housing residents who are considered well-off tenants.

Cracking down on wealthy tenants won’t solve the problem of a long queue, but it will help moderate it when combined with the government’s efforts to expand housing supply in the coming decade.

But we have heard this song before. Let’s see if the next government has the guts to do something about it.