Carrie Lam quashes criticism that Anderson Road housing project will only benefit developers
Chief executive says Hongkongers have ‘conspiracy theories of collusion’ in everything the government does but it is working hard to provide more land for housing
Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor on Thursday quashed criticism that her administration’s efforts to provide 1,000 affordable homes for middle-class Hongkongers will only benefit private developers.
The chief executive was responding to a caller on a radio programme, a day after delivering her maiden policy address, during which she announced a slate of projects to help sandwiched, middle-class Hong Kong families afford their own home. Lam had announced a pilot “Starter Home” scheme for first-time home buyers, consisting of 1,000 flats at a site on Anderson Road in Kwun Tong.
The caller suggested the government was helping private developers, and demanded to know why it is trying to evict villagers to develop the northeast section of the New Territories.
The Anderson Road site is part of a plot of government land that will be sold to private developers next year. The successful bidder will have to reserve a portion of the land for the “Starter Home” scheme. While prices will be set by the developer, the government will ensure they are kept affordable, under the plan.
To free up land for public projects, the government has in the past evicted villagers and redeveloped farmland.
Lam said that the caller’s remarks illustrated a concern she had, that “conspiracy theories of collusion have been appearing on everything that the government does” and that its latest housing policy efforts are aimed at benefiting developers.
“I can tell everyone that this is not the case and they should not be worried,” she said, adding that in the last 10 years, the government had done “everything it can” to provide more land for housing.
“The reality is that it has been difficult,” said Lam, who was secretary for development, in charge of planning, land development and public works in the city, from 2007 to 2012.
Home ownership has increasingly seemed like an impossible dream for middle-class Hongkongers, given that they live in the world’s most expensive property market, with the city’s land shortage fuelling property speculation and driving up prices.
Lam’s administration has pledged to “substantially increase” housing supply and ensure that Hongkongers in different income brackets can become homeowners. The “Starter Home” scheme thus caters to first-time home buyers who do not qualify for subsidised government housing but cannot afford private homes. Buyers must have lived in Hong Kong for at least seven years, and earn no more than HK$34,000 if they are single, or no more than HK$68,000 for households with two or more members.
Despite long commutes to save money, Hong Kong couple just can’t keep pace with rising property prices
Lam added that there was also an “alternative choice” for lower-income Hongkongers. She had announced on Wednesday that 4,000 new public flats will be offered as part of the Green Form Subsidised Home Ownership Scheme, which allows households currently renting government flats to buy their own home at a 40 per cent discount on the market price.
Asked by another caller if she would consider land reclamation as a solution to the land shortage, Lam said the government would consider this. Singapore and the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen had reclaimed land as a solution to space shortages, she said.
However, she noted that Hong Kong property developers have plenty of land that could be used for housing. She said she hoped that developers would consider building high-rise residential buildings instead of villas so more people could own property.