My Take

With the sorry state of housing and health care in our city, it’s no wonder people are unhappy

Bad public policy combined with a hands-off approach to private service providers has created a vicious circle of imbalances and inefficiencies

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 22 December, 2016, 8:32am
UPDATED : Thursday, 22 December, 2016, 8:32am

Hong Kong’s housing situation is beginning to resemble its provision of health care. The details may be different but both are the outcome of bad public policy combined with a laissez-faire, hands-off government for the private service providers.

Because of the imbalance and inefficiencies, enormous wealth has been generated for the private providers, whether it’s private doctors and hospitals or real estate developers. A vicious circle is well entrenched, such that the majority – whose earning powers have been stagnant for almost two decades – increasingly turns to public provisions as the costs of private service become prohibitive.

Just as 90 per cent of the population go to public hospitals, so about one in two Hong Kong residents live in public rental units or subsidised homes. The number of the latter will increase in coming years as demand for public housing continues to rise among the young.

When unscrupulous developers are selling 120-170 sq ft “micro-flats” for HK$2 million, publicly provided flats – whether for rent or for subsidised sales – are a bargain. The sunset Leung Chun-ying government has done little in health care. A proposed subsidised health insurance scheme has been hijacked by insurers and threatens to become a direct subsidy to the industry rather than individual patients.

The government has had a better record in land and development policy, but even this may come undone. Secretary for Transport and Housing Professor Anthony Cheung Bing-leung has just warned of a shortfall of 44,000 public housing flats because of difficulty in finding land. The government targets have been for 460,000 flats for the next decade: 280,000 for public housing and 180,000 for private housing, roughly in a ratio of 60 to 40.

The professor appeals for public cooperation to help find land. But why not make your targets 100 per cent public flats to meet demand?

There are an estimated 190,000 empty flats owned mostly by speculators. Major developers hold massive idle land banks at no cost to themselves. For private demand, let the private market take care of it.

Their existing capacities are more than enough to do the job. But of course, developers want their pound of flesh with those housing targets while the government loves the easy land sales revenue.

But when a society can’t get such basics as housing and health care right, social discontent is guaranteed.