Saturday, June 18, 2011 HOS may be renewed after warning



HOS may be renewed after warning

Tsang said to be rethinking the mothballed subsidised scheme after visiting Beijing leader sounds caution

The government is under growing pressure to resume building Home Ownership Scheme flats after Beijing's Hong Kong affairs chief warned openly that the shortage of housing for people in need could turn into a political problem.

Wang Guangya , director of the State Council's Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office (HKMAO), singled out housing as an urgent issue on which the government should take action during his duty visit to the city last week.

Since then, local officials have been sending out signals of forthcoming measures, with the revival of the HOS an option. Under the old scheme, the government built flats for sale at subsidised prices to families priced out of the private market.

Yesterday, two Chinese-language newspapers, Hong Kong Economic Times and Apple Daily, cited unnamed government officials as telling them that Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen was seriously considering resuming the scheme - a proposal that major political parties and even some Executive Council members have been pushing for.

The reports were in line with Tsang's remarks at a Legislative Council question-and-answer session last month, in which he said the government would study the proposal and lay out initiatives to help people acquire homes in his final policy address in October.

Asked whether the government would resume construction of HOS flats, Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah said: "I believe Mr Tsang will give an answer later."

Donald Tsang, who is on a nine-day duty visit in Australia that ends on Thursday, said on television there last Friday that home prices in Hong Kong were "quite frightening" and pledged his administration would do more to slow the market down.

A government spokesman noted that the chief executive had promised to deal with the housing issue in his upcoming policy address, but said: "This must be considered along with problems with land supply."

Kennedy Wong Ying-ho, a member of the Housing Society who supports the revival of the HOS, said the idea had not been put onto the society's agenda.

"Don't expect too much," he said. "It can well be Donald Tsang's gesture to boost his popularity before his term ends. We haven't even found all the sites for the My Home Purchase Plan since its announcement last year. How can the present government relaunch the HOS in a year's time? It takes years and you don't know if the next chief executive will support the HOS."

The Democratic Party threatened to move a motion of no confidence in Tsang if he did not announce in the policy address a resumption in building HOS flats. "This will be one of our major demands in the July 1march," said Lee Wing-tat, chairman of the Legco housing panel. "If the administration continues to ignore people's voices, public anger will grow. It is Donald Tsang's last chance."

The panel's deputy chairman, Wong Kwok-hing, said he hoped the government would announce the revival of the HOS as soon as possible. He referred to Wang's comment that Macau was moving faster in building affordable housing. "Wang's remarks have certainly given the chief executive some pressure. It is very rare for the HKMAO to compare Hong Kong openly with Macau."

The 26-year scheme ended in 2002 to reverse a property slump.

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