Monday, November 30, 2015   

Digging into farmland for homes

Mary Ma

Monday, January 21, 2013

Discussion is heating up on the possibility of levying a new tax on developers who leave completed homes unsold.

Is flat hoarding serious? No. Even the chief executive said in his policy address that unsold flats has hovered constantly just 4 percent.

It's unrealistic to reduce it further. That would be like asking the labor secretary to cut the jobless rate from a level already considered full employment.

The so-called vacancy tax is far- fetched, and won't work. Many people are saying that.

Applications to buy flats in the subsidized housing project, Greenview Villa in Tsing Yi, closed on Friday.


The response was overwhelming. There were just under 1,000 units up for grabs, and excluding applications by post, about 45,000 applications were received - an oversubscription rate of 44 times.

Ten percent of the units are reserved for singles, while 65 percent of applicants are single. If only this 10 percent is considered, the oversubscription rate would be 300 times.

The figures point to an extremely high demand for small units. But how can the government meet the demand any sooner while it keeps the public waiting for a large artificial island to be reclaimed, or the northeastern New Territories to be filled with new homes? This is a pressing question.

Henderson Land chairman Lee Shau-kee recently proposed 300-square-foot homes be built on farmland his firm owns and be sold for HK$1 million each.

Of course, the government would have to agree to waive the land premium it normally charges for converting arable land into residential use.

Should housing secretary Anthony Cheung Bing-leung seriously consider it? I spoke with a chauffeur the other evening and he liked Lee's idea. In theory, it should work since it's only a variant of the Private Sector Participation Scheme, under which flats were sold for a discount and buyers were subject to restrictions like the Home Ownership Scheme.

The HK$1 million price tag is attractive. While restrictions should be attached, the advantage is that the government generates private productivity without paying cash.

Yesterday, Cheung said the housing production projected in the policy address is only the basic and there will be more. In other words, the land reserve outlined is not the whole kit and caboodle

Could the housing minister be giving thought to Lee's proposal? Government-business collaboration is often viewed as collusion in the political vocabulary unique to the SAR. While this helped to drag the city's feet in the past, the current regime should overcome this barrier if it's serious in leading the city to move quicker.

By the same token, Cheung may also reconsider reviving the scheme to sell public rental units to existing tenants to meet home ownership expectations.

It's always fine to have big projects. They're visionary, but also very distant.

Who knows if that artificial island will actually be reclaimed in the end? Give us something down to earth.

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