Crit­ics of new well-off ten­ant pol­icy lack sound rea­sons

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - COMMENT - R AY M O N D S O

The wait­ing list for pub­lic rental hous­ing has reached a record high. The cur­rent wait­ing time for pub­lic rental hous­ing is far longer than the three years pre­vi­ously promised by the Hous­ing Author­ity (HA). The main rea­son for this is that more ci­ti­zens are turn­ing to pub­lic rental hous­ing as the hous­ing cost in Hong Kong is so ex­pen­sive that many peo­ple can no longer af­ford pri­vate hous­ing. To solve the prob­lem of in­suf­fi­cient sup­ply, the so­lu­tions al­ways lie in re­duc­ing the de­mand and in­creas­ing the sup­ply. Hence, the HA is obliged to reduce the abuse of pub­lic rental hous­ing, so that these scarce re­sources can be as­signed to those who are in real need of pub­lic rental hous­ing.

The Sub­sidised Hous­ing Com­mit­tee of the HA has re­cently adopted a new pol­icy tar­get­ing well-off tenants. This pol­icy, which will be in place next year, will look at the in­come level of the tenants and the value of as­sets they have. If ei­ther the in­come level or the value of as­sets on hand ex­ceeds the pre­scribed limit, the tenants need to move out. Also, those who own a res­i­den­tial prop­erty in Hong Kong will not be al­lowed to live in pub­lic rental hous­ing units. This dif­fers from the cur­rent pol­icy in which tenants are re­quired to move out only if both the in­come and as­set lim­its are ex­ceeded.

Frankly speak­ing, this new pol­icy can­not be said to be wrong. Take the in­come limit as an ex­am­ple. The new monthly in­come limit is HK$133,450 for a house­hold of four. By any stan­dard, a house­hold with such a high in­come can well af­ford pri­vate hous­ing. The­o­ret­i­cally, pub­lic rental hous­ing should be for those who can­not af­ford pri­vate rental hous­ing. And this is ex­actly the pol­icy ob­jec­tive of the HA — to pro­vide pub­lic rental hous­ing for those who can­not af­ford the pri­vate rental mar­ket. It has never been the in­ten­tion of the HA to help peo­ple buy a flat.

From a pol­icy point of view, the new rule is to up­hold the pol­icy ob­jec­tive of the HA. The­o­ret­i­cally, when tenants of pub­lic rental hous­ing units be­come well-off, they should move out so that the hous­ing units can be al­lo­cated to need­ier peo­ple. The prob­lem is the welloff tenants need to pay much higher rents in the pri­vate mar­ket if they move out of pub­lic rental hous­ing units. Given eco­nomic ra­tio­nal­ity, the well-off tenants have no in­cen­tives to move out un­less they are forced to. De­spite pre­vi­ous ef­forts by the HA, the num­ber of pub­lic rental hous­ing units re­leased by welloff tenants is not sub­stan­tial.

It is still too early to eval­u­ate the ef­fec­tive­ness of the new pol­icy. But we need to eval­u­ate the pol­icy ac­cord­ing to the ob­jec­tives and not by un­re­lated fig­ures. Hence, it will not be ap­pro­pri­ate to con­clude that the pol­icy is in­ef­fec­tive even if not many well-off ten- The au­thor is the dean of the School of Con­tin­u­ing Ed­u­ca­tion at Hong Kong Bap­tist Univer­sity.

From a pol­icy point of view, the new rule is to up­hold the pol­icy ob­jec­tive of the HA. The­o­ret­i­cally, when tenants of pub­lic rental hous­ing units be­come welloff, they should move out so that the hous­ing units can be al­lo­cated to need­ier peo­ple.”

ants move out even­tu­ally. Given there is still 10 months to go be­fore the new pol­icy is in place, the well-off tenants have am­ple time to adapt to the new poli­cies. The point is that we should look at the pol­icy from the grounds of fair­ness and not just blunt numbers.

Un­de­ni­ably, the new pol­icy will af­fect the in­ter­ests of some peo­ple and there have been crit­i­cisms that it has been adopted with­out care­ful con­sid­er­a­tion, with some claim­ing the new pol­icy should be tabled be­fore the Leg­isla­tive Coun­cil for more thor­ough dis­cus­sion be­fore im­ple­men­ta­tion. Some also have said that the tight­en­ing of the well-off ten­ant pol­icy aims to di­vert peo­ple’s at­ten­tion from the in­abil­ity of the HA to pro­duce suf­fi­cient flats. These com­ments are not valid. It is not true that there was not suf­fi­cient con­sid­er­a­tion. Three years ago, the Au­dit Com­mis­sion al­ready ad­vised the HA to re­view the well-off ten­ant pol­icy. It is al­ways pos­si­ble for pol­i­cy­mak­ers to do a bet­ter job; how­ever, it would be un­fair to say that the pol­icy was made with­out care­ful con­sid­er­a­tion.

Hong Kong is a so­ci­ety with dif­fer­ing views. The HA’s Sub­sidised Hous­ing Com­mit­tee has its own man­date in for­mu­lat­ing poli­cies for pub­lic rental hous­ing and there is no need for it to seek ap­proval from LegCo on ev­ery de­ci­sion it makes. Also, the vol­ume of pub­lic rental hous­ing units con­structed is closely mon­i­tored by the com­mu­nity and peo­ple’s at­ten­tion to this as­pect will not be di­verted by other hous­ing poli­cies. In short, crit­ics of the new well-off ten­ant pol­icy have failed to come up with sound rea­sons.

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