Wednesday, December 2, 2015   

Lion City blueprint hard task to follow

Gary Chau

Thursday, September 26, 2013

The Singapore government has won public accolade for successfully cooling down the red-hot residential property market in the Lion City. However, the Hong Kong administration faces limitations should it want to follow the blueprint of its regional counterpart.

After skyrocketing property prices triggered discontent in Singapore, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong introduced three main measures to tackle the problem. The first was to increase the supply of public housing, which resulted in the presale of uncompleted flats last year soaring to 27,000 units - tripling that of 2009.

The second measure is to increase land supply for more housing. During National Day celebrations on August 9, Lee announced that the Paya Lebar Air Base will be relocated to provide additional space for residential uses. Meanwhile, the Tanjong Pagar Container Terminal will also move to the city's edge to facilitate more housing development.

But what makes Hongkongers most envious is Singapore's housing subsidy to the lower-income group - enabling an individual earning as little as HK$6,000 a month to afford to buy a one-bedroom apartment. Singapore's aim is to ensure each household can buy a flat costing the equivalent of four years' salary.

Furthermore, new immigrants who stay less than three years in Singapore are not allowed to acquire a secondhand public housing unit.

The various measures arrested the trend of rising home prices, with the latest figures showing the number of private hous
ing deals dropped more than 73 percent year-on-year in July.

Meanwhile, the number of transactions in which vendors of public housing units sold at prices above bank evaluation fell by 16 percent in July from June. And in August, there were even 32 deals in which such homes changed hands without any capital gain.

Kai Jian Cheow, 25, praised the Singapore government's latest housing policies.

"Singaporeans suffered from a housing problem for a long time. The government wanted to cool the market, but was afraid of causing a property collapse," he said. "But now, home prices are under control. Young people can buy new flats now, whereas they couldn't before."

However, Cheow is concerned over a possible oversupply when developers complete projects and put them on the market.

While Hongkongers may be envious, Singapore's ideas would not be easy to duplicate. For one thing, more than 80 percent of the land in Singapore is state-owned, so the government can totally dictate land use. The cost of construction is another huge reason. In Hong Kong, it costs HK$3,000 per square foot, compared with Singapore's HK$1,200 psf.

The main difference is the use of cheap labor from developing countries. Whereas a worker from Bangladesh, Burma or India could be paid as little as about HK$100 a day - under no minimum wage protection - laborers in the SAR can earn 10 times more: HK$1,000 daily, with Hong Kong labor unions resisting the importation of immigrant workers.

Andy Kwan Cheuk-chiu, a member of the Hong Kong government's Long Term Housing Strategy Steering Committee, emphasized it would be difficult for the SAR to copy the "Singapore Model."

"Hong Kong's use of land is more rigid than Singapore's. For example, we cannot touch land designated for military use," he said.

"Some land with low efficiency use, like golf courses or parking spaces, we could consider expropriating and putting into the land bank to increase land supply," Kwan said, adding that empty lots in the New Territories could also be put to residential use.

However, he stressed the high construction costs in Hong Kong would be tough to alleviate.

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