Bridging the gap: housing solution would be a good start

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 12 March, 2016, 12:15am
UPDATED : Saturday, 12 March, 2016, 12:15am

Income inequality in America is a huge problem, with 0.1 per cent of the population owning as much as the bottom 90 per cent. Similarly, our wealth gap as measured by the Gini coefficient is 0.537: the highest among developed economies.

In Hong Kong’s case, income inequality is mainly due to unaffordable housing prices. Money and wealth from development has mainly flowed into property, creating an elite landlord class, leaving existing homeowners further behind.

In the budget speech, Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah said our problems were man-made and that Hong Kong’s problems could not “be solved by anyone else except ourselves”.

How could there not be polarisation, localism or even riots when nearly 50 per cent of our population are slaving away paying high rents and don’t own their own home? A 200 sq ft flat can cost over HK$3 million, while an average household needs to work 17 years to buy an average home.

We should learn from Lee Kuan Yew, who often famously mentioned that the foundation of a stable society is a fair share for everybody as a home owner.

Also, when Lee visited Hong Kong he saw only concrete and tarmac with no greenery – that’s why he decided Singapore must plant more trees in the city and its neighbourhoods.

While Donald Trump exploits Americans’ fear blaming immigrants, we in Hong Kong blame mainlanders. The establishment and money politics, symbolised by huge donations by Wall Street, are also to blame in America. The poor have limited social mobility and youths lack opportunities.

Taxes for the rich are too low; tycoons and big business influence policies, not unlike our situation here in Hong Kong. John Tsang should take note that the property tycoons have contributed to our man-made problems and that it is government that must solve it.

I fully agree with Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying on his approach that constructive, positive intervention is needed to proactively tackle livelihood issues such as housing.

Finally, in the US, high crime rates lead to high incarceration rates but in Hong Kong just for being poor many are sentenced to miserable lives in prison-like cage homes.

Bernard E. S. Lee, Tsuen Wan