Leung revisited unfulfilled housing promise in his swansong

the-chief-executive-mr-c-y-leung-delivers-the-2017-policy-address-at-the-legislative-council-today-january-18-photo-govhk
The Chief Executive, Mr C Y Leung, delivers the 2017 Policy Address at the Legislative Council today (January 18). Photo: GovHK

 

BY Stephanie LI Ying-liang

Jan. 21, 2017

Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying urged society to “think out of the box” in terms of methods to provide sufficient housing to local residents in his farewell political address in the Legislative Council earlier this week, and claimed to have basically delivered his election promises during five years in office.

Leung’s two-and-a-half-hour speech, the longest of all five of his previous addresses, sought to touch on a wide range of issues, starting from how local economy can assist President Xi Jinping’s of China Belt-and-Road Initiative, to indigenous pressing issues such as housing, pension and poverty, and finally ending with a strong stance at defending the Basic Law by a resonant remark that leaves “no room for Hong Kong to become independent or separate from the Motherland.”

Leung said that public housing shortage would still be “a tough nut to crack” and urged community and government to join efforts in solving the problem. “Expediting and increasing supply is the ultimate solution to various housing-related issues,” he said.

He also warned that the situation would become more intense since the demand for land is ever-increasing as the city’s population and the number of households continues to grow.

Leung said an estimated 94,500 public housing flats in the five-year period would be supplied beginning this year, adding to the total of 51,100 private units constructed over his five-year term.

However, according to a report in the South China Morning Post last month, several public housing projects involving around 20,000 flats have encountered unforeseen obstacles, which will result in a shortfall in the number of government-funded flats for the coming decade.

With public rental units, Leung had promised to keep a three-year waiting period for family and single applicants over the age of 35, but as of last September, general applicants have to wait 4.5 years to move into public housings as estimated by the Housing Authority.

The price of private housing has remained high despite the current administration’s so-called “tough measures” to counter high-soaring prices by launching a series of tax measures for property sales, including the Special Stamp Duty and the Buyer’s Stamp Duty.

First adopted in 2013 and reinforced in 2016, this policy aimed to give priority to Hong Kong permanent residents to meet their home ownership needs and cool down the overheated property market. Currently, a 15 percent tax of the overall property price is imposed on buyers, except for first time house owners.

“The prices have gone down a bit after the policy came out, but they went up again in 2016,” said Mr. Kwok, a 40-year-old father of three children who works in the I.T. industry, who felt disappointed that Leung’s efforts have not yielded the expected outcome.

Hong Kong has ranked as having “the least affordable housing in the world” for 12 years in a row as the median property price was 19 times as high as the gross annual median household income, according to the 2016 report on housing affordability released by a research institute Demographia.

That result is echoed by the 2015 UBS Global Real Estate Bubble Index, a Swiss global financial services company, as the city was considered to be among the most vulnerable metropoles to risk from a real estate bubble.

Yet, the Chief Executive’s “out-of-the-box” proposal to allow building flats on the margins of protected country parks also raised eyebrows.

Mr. Cheung, a high school teacher, taunted Leung’s plan as “unrealistic” because the land is remote and hilly, and therefore, problems like the lack of railway and supporting facilities would occur.

“People would like to keep their home closer to workplace in order to avoid long-distance commute, so I don’t think property developers would ever want to tender for the land,” he said.

Geoffrey Shen, professor of construction and real estate management at Polytechnic University, said Leung’s housing policies were “good,” but declined to make further comment.

Leung is among the distinguished alumni of the Department of Building and Real Estate at the university. And pushing forward holistic housing policies has been a major pillar in since he was elected in 2012, including the “Hong Kong property for Hong Kong residents” policy and providing new land for urban development.

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