Higher taxes for rich landlords would help ease housing crisis

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 04 June, 2016, 12:17am
UPDATED : Saturday, 04 June, 2016, 12:16am

Many good articles about the perils of high property prices have been written in this newspaper, including from senior editors like Yonden Lhatoo and op-ed contributors like Peter Guy.

Lhatoo correctly mentioned that Hong Kong needs an iron-willed government, like perhaps Singapore (“HK has money and land, but no guts to solve its housing crisis”, May 20). But our political structure doesn’t enable a Lee Kuan Yew (even if we could find one) here to have the ultimate say, to begin with.

Our best bet is to support our current Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying to go up against the powerful property developers and give Leung as much political power as possible under our current political system – which unfortunately the masses in Hong Kong disagree with.

In other words, we have played directly into the hands of the property developers.

C. Y. Leung has correctly intervened in the housing market, by imposing a buyers’ stamp duty on foreigners, and also stamp duties to reduce speculation.

This immediately is politicised by pro-business groups, where they accuse Leung of taking away their right/freedom to do business, destroying Hong Kong’s free market policies and succumbing to populist agendas. It is exactly these non-interventionist policies (of the past), giving property tycoons a free reign over the city’s business scene, that has brought us into this predicament – including hundreds of thousands of families dwelling in subdivided units and even cage homes.

Surely, Hongkongers’ right to affordable housing is more important than the right of a few tycoons to do business.

Many blame China for causing our housing crisis. This is nonsensical, as China doesn’t control our housing policy and housing supply.

Another common argument is the dollar peg and low interest rates – an excuse to simply do nothing.

Singapore and other cities have overtaken Hong Kong, and if this is debatable then one thing that’s clear is Hong Kong has the worst housing policy in the developed world.

An immediate solution is to impose a high tax on rental income and on landlords with multiple properties; only tax exempting the one premises they live in. Discouraging rich landlords from holding multiple properties and encouraging home ownership will drive down rents.

Redistribution is necessary given our current condition and wealth inequality. Hong Kong’s growth has mainly flowed into property; therefore a more inclusive economic policy is to ensure everyone benefits, by making more homeowners, and not more landlords.

Bernard E. S. Lee, Tsuen Wan