How Hong Kong’s housing crisis can be solved by thinking like Donald Trump
Michael Chugani says Carrie Lam should be inspired by the US president and adopt a ‘Hong Kong first’ policy, banning the sale of new flats to non-Hongkongers
If only our leaders would dare take a page out of US President Donald Trump’s book by doing the unimaginable. Pure insanity now rules our property market. Only doing the unthinkable can cure this madness. Slam shut our housing market door to all except Hong Kong identity card holders. Home prices will drop faster than a ton of bricks. But it takes Trump-like guts.
The only person who can make that happen is Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor. From what I hear, she keeps her ministers on a short leash. What she says goes on policy matters. That’s not unlike Trump’s style. But Trump dares do the unimaginable. Does Lam?
Threatening North Korea with fire and fury, starting a trade war with China, pulling out of the Iran nuclear deal, giving the middle finger to other G7 leaders – Trump did all that after only 18 months in office. Now he’s done the unthinkable: meeting and convincing North Korean leader Kim Jong-un to denuclearise.
Trump calls his brinkmanship putting America first. Dare Lam put Hong Kong first? Our housing crisis is akin to a lit fuse inching towards a bomb made up of 200,000 people in subdivided flats, 300,000 who must wait over four years for public housing, and countless Hongkongers whose dream of home ownership has vanished.
Forget about country parks, reclamation, brownfield sites and the Fanling golf course. Even if there is a consensus on how to create more land, homes won’t become available for years. Does our government want people to languish in cubicle homes indefinitely? Are those queuing for public housing expected to shrug off the fact they could die while waiting?
Watch: ‘Coffin homes’ sprout in Hong Kong
How much longer must we tolerate ever-rising home prices? What else is it but insanity when property agents brawl over clients and a parking space sells for HK$6 million? Increasing land supply is not the magic bullet, as Lam claims. The magic bullet is protectionism by shutting our housing market to outsiders.
Too much hot money, especially from the mainland, is partly feeding the frenzy. Hongkongers are also feeding it by having zero faith in the government’s ability to solve the crisis. It doesn’t matter how many flats we build. A combination of hot money and Hongkongers fearing even higher prices will chase after them.
We are no longer a city that serves only its 7 million people. We must now also serve a country of 1.3 billion. First mainland residents chased baby milk powder, then flats, flu vaccines, and now even the HPV anti-cancer drug.
What Lam must do is put Hong Kong first. Her predecessor, Leung Chun-ying, did that by ending the flood of mainlanders giving birth here for their babies to reap the benefits of our social services, limiting people leaving Hong Kong to two tins of baby formula, and restricting the number of times Shenzhen visitors can come here. Call it protectionism, but it worked.
Leung’s scheme to set aside only a limited number of flats for Hongkongers flopped because it didn’t go far enough. We must restrict all future flats to only Hongkongers. Free marketeers will raise hell, warning of Hong Kong losing its crown as the world’s freest economy. Forget them.
Being ranked the freest market is academic nonsense from think tanks. The US-based Heritage Foundation consistently ranks Hong Kong as the world’s freest market. But how has that benefited ordinary Hongkongers?
Wages have remained stagnant since the handover. Upward mobility for young people is now history. Most can no longer afford flats. Those who can with the help of their parents are paying more for tinier flats. Being the freest economy benefits only property developers and our rich class. It means nothing to people in subdivided homes and those waiting for public housing.
Lam relishes being dubbed Hong Kong’s iron lady. She must now live up to it. Does she have the grit to go where no chief executive has gone before?
Michael Chugani is a Hong Kong journalist and TV show host