If Singapore is now Hong Kong’s political role model, will it also inspire housing policy?

Albert Cheng says to solve Hong Kong’s housing crisis, instead of hedging its bets, the government should completely delink subsidised housing prices from the market

PUBLISHED : Friday, 13 July, 2018, 6:02am
UPDATED : Friday, 13 July, 2018, 6:08am

The Singapore style of governance championed by Lee Kuan Yew has been a model for Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor and her predecessors Leung Chun-ying and Tung Chee-hwa.

Meanwhile, the city’s mainstream media has been trumpeting Singapore’s prosperous economy and stable society, while accusing the pro-democracy camp of hindering Hong Kong’s development. 

It has been forgotten that Singapore is essentially a dictatorship. The People’s Action Party has been in power since the country’s establishment and is credited with its rapid economic growth. However, the party has also been suppressing the opposition.

There is no such thing as a free lunch. Both the Singapore government and citizens pay a price. In exchange for the public’s support, the Lee family has ensured citizens enjoy a good standard of living and fair policies on housing, education, health care and retirement protection. Meanwhile, Singaporeans have their vote, which can restrain the government.

Hong Kong, on the contrary, is falling between two stools. The government has failed to accommodate the needs of Hongkongers, while democracy has been deteriorating. The opposition has been oppressed and human rights diminished. Governance in Hong Kong is catching up with Singapore’s dictatorship, but falling behind its efficient and effective policies.

Lee Kuan Yew - the man who would not have taken on 'thankless' Hong Kong job

‘Prostitute Mansion’: Singapore heads for Hong Kong-style housing

The Hong Kong government has been incompetent in easing the city’s housing crisis. It is reluctant to adopt the Singaporean model, which strictly segregates public and private housing, securing a roof over the head of at least 80 per cent of the population.

Recently, Lam introduced six new housing policy measures. She proposed to “delink” the price of subsidised flats sales from the market price, so that a flat can be sold at 52 per cent of the market price instead of the original 70 per cent. This is a sign that the government is moving towards segregating public and private housing. However, the new measures are shortsighted and do not tackle the root of the problem.

Given that housing prices have increased 12 per cent since Lam took office, the government should completely delink subsidised housing from market prices and set the rate according to construction and operating costs.

The asset and income limits should also be done away with. All permanent residents should be eligible to apply for such housing, with allocations decided by drawing lots. The one condition should be that owners are allowed to resell the property only to permanent residents or the Housing Authority.

Hong Kong builders raise prices, confident that buyers will snap up flats

Workable solutions to Hong Kong dire housing situation

During the transitional period, the government should also set up a rent-to-buy scheme to enable young people to eventually own a home without becoming slaves to mortgages. This would also address the twisted phenomenon of middle-class people refusing a pay rise to remain eligible for subsidised housing. The government can also develop a higher standard of public housing for people who are financially better-off.

The private housing market can keep its free market system. There is no need for the government to raise the mortgage rate, which not only adversely affects the secondary market, but also pushes people towards newly built apartments which are eligible for a second mortgage. This benefits developers and sustains the rise in housing prices.

Housing policy aside, Lam supports land reclamation. While this is better than destroying our country parks, reclamation takes years to complete. Right now, the only way to meet short-term demand is to develop brownfield sites.

The government should also seek approval from the central government to use the idle People’s Liberation Army land. If a proposal were put forward to use the land for public housing, Beijing may well approve it. That would help improve the central government’s image in Hong Kong.

Easing the housing shortage is a common goal of all parties in Hong Kong. The pan-democrats should ride on the latest housing measures and urge the government to completely segregate public from private housing.

However, If people’s well-being is constantly overlooked, they will quickly lose faith in, and abandon, this dominating and incapable government.

Albert Cheng King-hon is a political commentator. [email protected]