Get the balance right on ‘Starter Homes’
Scheme is a welcome step but government must ensure there are more resale restrictions and not raise fears of business collusion
When it comes to resolving Hong Kong’s housing shortage, the will is as important as the strategies. While successive administrations have shown enough of the former, they lacked well-thought-out strategies to tackle the conundrum. But a change is in the air after Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor took over the helm. By launching the land supply review and a new “Starter Homes” scheme, the chief executive is keen to show that her government can make a difference.
The public will be given a chance in the first quarter of next year to fully debate a dozen or so options to enhance land supply. But the city’s leader has rightly challenged people to ponder over a few questions. “Can we really not explore using the fringe of some country parks? Can we really not undertake some reclamation outside of Victoria Harbour?”, with the full knowledge of the appalling living conditions tens of thousands of people face in the city. Inevitably tough choices have to be made.
The Starter Homes scheme to be rolled out by the government is a welcome step. Understandably, the higher discount prices for eligible first-time homebuyers should come with more restrictions on resale. Otherwise, the subsidy could effectively help individuals make financial gains through resale. But if the scheme becomes too restrictive, it may deter buyers.
The suggestion that the government may collaborate with private developers to deliver has also aroused public concern. As the new initiative will avoid using land already earmarked for public housing, a private sector partnership is perhaps an option. But amid concerns over so-called government-business collusion, officials should be mindful of public perception and avoid giving the impression that the scheme will benefit developers rather than the public.
The scale of the housing project remains unclear at this stage. The growing demand means the government may never satisfy all housing needs with public resources. But it will fall short of people’s expectations if only a small fraction of the community benefits. The government must therefore seek to strike the right balance.