Hong Kong housing

Sell subsidised flats in Hong Kong by waiting list, not lottery, head of largest property agency says

Centaline chairman believes such an overhaul would send strong, positive message to city’s young people who despair over affordable property

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 29 August, 2018, 8:44pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 29 August, 2018, 9:52pm

Subsidised flats for sale in Hong Kong should no longer be sold by lottery but through a waiting list, the founder of the city’s largest property agency proposed.

Centaline chairman Shih Wing-ching suggested that flats on the government’s Home Ownership Scheme (HOS) should be placed on a waiting list just as public rental flats are, instead of being offered as “a big lucky draw” as many have criticised.

“Flats being sold by lucky draw mean that it only helps solve the housing problem for a small group of people,” Shih said on Wednesday at a housing and land supply forum hosted by four think tanks. “I know someone who has tried to buy an HOS flat for 40 years, and they were never picked.”

“If the current HOS can be called a solution, you might as well solve poverty by the Mark Six draw.”

Shih explained that a ballot could be conducted for the next batch of HOS flats to determine a priority sequence, with those who are not selected put on the waiting list.

Under the current system, those who do not make the cut must reapply from scratch for a new batch every year.

In contrast, applicants for public rental housing flats are put on a waiting list. Different waiting times exist for applicants with a family, the elderly, and those who are single and non-elderly.

They are guaranteed a flat as long as they meet the income and asset limits by the time they have waited their turn.

HOS flats are government-built and designed to help young couples and families struggling to buy property in the private market. They have usually been sold at 70 per cent of the market rate of private flats. However, under new measures announced by the Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, the flats will be sold at prices that are 52 per cent of the market rate.

It can bring comfort to many young people who have lost any hope of owning a property
Centaline founder Shih Wing-ching

Shih believed an overhaul such as his proposal would signal officials’ strong desire to help Hongkongers become homeowners.

“The government can make a promise, like they did with public rental flats, on how long applicants would have to wait to get a flat,” he said.

“This is a right Hongkongers should have, and it can bring comfort to many young people who have lost any hope of owning a property.”

In space-starved Hong Kong, known as one of the world’s most unaffordable cities to buy and rent property, the housing shortage has forced more than 210,000 residents to live in cramped and squalid conditions.

Family applicants who have applied for public housing have been on hold for more than five years and three months to be allocated a flat, according to Housing Authority statistics as of the end of June.

Lawmaker Wilson Or Chong-shing, who is a member of the authority’s subsidised housing committee, expressed openness to the idea of a waiting list system for HOS flats.

“At least residents could feel at some point they would be able to have a roof over their heads and not like they’re in a Mark Six lucky draw,” he said.

Or stressed the importance of a transparent system in which applicants would be clear about when exactly they would be able to have a chance at purchasing a flat.

Land supply debate shows Hongkongers’ views on reclamation changing

At a separate forum, the Hong Kong Real Property Federation suggested the concept of “floating cities” on the northern harbour of the site of the former city airport. This would serve as a short-term solution to boost housing supply.

It would involve building construction containers on barges or old cargo ships and provide temporary shelter for 1,600 to 2,000 people on the public housing waiting list.

The group estimated the plan would cost the government about HK$140 million (US$17.8 million).

Additional reporting by Martin Choi