'No magic wand' to solve Hong Kong's housing crisis but Carrie Lam pledges to 'think out of box'
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HONG KONG - Hong Kong will "think out of the box" to ease the city's housing crunch, inject more new blood into the government and boost spending on research and development, said Hong Kong's Chief Executive Carrie Lam on Wednesday (Oct 11).
For many Hong Kongers, the highlight in her policy address is a new scheme to help fi rst-time buyers own a home in one of the world's most expensive property markets.
The so- called "starter home" scheme, which Mrs Lam first proposed during her election campaign, is targeted at the "sandwiched" households: Those which earn too much to be eligible for cheap public housing, but priced out of the private market.
Income limits will be set at HK$34,000 (S$5,910) for singles and HK$68,000 for households for eligible buyers, according to South China Morning Post. Around 1,000 "starter home" flats will be launched by the end of next year, said Mrs Lam.
She said on Wednesday "although we do not have a magic wand (to produce more land), officials have showed exceptional thinking and new direction to meet the housing demands and expectations of Hong Kong people."
Other measures being explored to create space for more homes include:
- the use of idle government properties, and units in old buildi ngs;
- letting owners of subsidised housing to rent out their flats to needy families at below-market rentals on a pilot basis;
- conversion of industrial buildings into transitional housing with waiver of land premium; and
- helping NGOs explore the feasibility of constructing pre-fabricated modular housing on idle sites.
Chinese President Xi Jinping also voiced concern over the financial hubâs property market when he visited in July to attend the inauguration of Mrs Lam as Hong Kong's new Chief Executive as part of the handover celebrations.
Hong Kong â" where people are squeezed into an average living space of just 150 square feet (14 square metres) per person â" is the worldâs most expensive city for flats, according to a recent UBS report ranking 20 leading global cities including New York, London, Tokyo and Singapore.
Some observers felt Mrs Lamâs housing initiatives were no t bold enough.
âProperty shares are down because of the lack of mention of farmland conversion to build first homes. But the chief executive cannot be too specific, so the sell-off doesnât reflect the real picture,â Nicole Wong, a property analyst with CLSA, told Reuters.
Delivering her first policy address since taking office in July, Mrs Lam outlined a string of "people -oriented' initiatives in social welfare, education and housing policies.
In a break with tradition, Mrs Lam on Wednesday ditched the word-for-word delivery of her 49,000-word maiden policy address and highlighted only the major initiatives. If she were to read the address word for word, which her predecessors did, it would take up to four hours.
No matter how long the address is, it cannot cover and address all issues, she said on Wednesday.
"My team and I will continue to listen to views," said the city's first female leader, who took office on J uly 1, the 20th anniversary of Hong Kong's return to Chinese sovereignty.
She had run her election campaign under the "We Connect" slogan, pledging to mend rifts in society.
At the start of her 40-minute speech delivered at the Legislative Council on Wednesday, she pledged to to listen to lawmakers and the public with "humility", saying the speech will be a new "starting point" for the city.
She also repeated comments made by Chinese President Xi Jinping during his visit to Hong Kong for the handover celebrations that the "one country, two systems" policy is the best path for the city.
"We have the responsibility to say no to any act or behaviour that could harm national security," said Mrs Lam.
She also announced that an unpopular plan to demolish a popular sports facility would be scrapped. Her predecessor Leung Chun Ying had proposed that the Wan Chai Sports Ground, one of the most popular training and competition venues in land scarce Hong Kong, be turned into a convention centre.
Instead, three major government buildings in Wan Chai North will be knocked down to make way for the major expansion of the convention centre, said Mrs Lam.
Mrs Lam also sets new targets to make her administration a more inclusive one. She pledged to increase the overall ratio of youth members on government committees to 15 per cent within the current government term.
More internship places in government departments will be set aside for students with disabilities, and the Hong Kong government will review the entry requirements for Chinese proficiency in the civil service to attract more minorities.
Mrs Lam also said on Wednesday the government will set up a training college for its 170,000 civil servants, an idea she first mooted during her visit to Singapore in August. The government is now looking for a site for the college.
She had visited Singapore 39;s Civil Service College and several government agencies during her two-day visit to the city-state in August.
On social welfare issues, Mrs Lam announced that new fathers will get a longer break from work, increasing the statutory paternity leave from three to five days.
A study will be launched on whether the current 10-weeks of maternity leave should be extended. Hong Kong's fertility rate has been on a decline trend over the past 33 years, hitting 1.20 per woman in 2015.
The number of elderly persons aged 65 and above is projected to more than double in the coming 20 years, with post-war baby boomers entering old age.
It will increase from 1.16 million in 2016 to 2.37 million in 2036. By 2066, the number of elderly people are projected to reach 2.59 million - 36.6 per cent of the population.
Mrs Lam that said despite the government devoting substantial resources to public hospitals, it is still hard for the health care system to cope wit h the ageing population.
A new pilot centre will be set up in the Kwai Tsing district in New Territories to provide community care for the elderly.
Mrs Lam sought to mend widening divisions in the society in the speech, as she called on Hong Kongers to keep their spirits up.
At the end of her speech, she surprised some when threw in a quote in English, saying "the best of Hong Kong is yet to come". The phrase has been associated with political activists demanding less interference from the Beijing central government in Hong Kong's affairs.
Scuffles and shouting matches broke out between rival groups of protesters outside the Legislative Council before and while Mrs Lam was delivering her speech.
She said inside the chamber that Hong Kong is "not far off" from her vision of the city as a place of "hope and happiness".
She said she sees a "vibrant international metropolis that is just, civilised, safe, a ffluent, enjoys the rule of law, compassionate and well-governed."
But she said the community needs to be "united, harmonious and caring" for this vision to be achieved, reported broadcaster rthk.
That said, she stressed that Hong Kong has not "lost our intrinsic advantages".
"Hong Kong people are still brilliant and the Hong Kong spirit has not been eroded," she said.Topics:
- HONG KONG
- CARRIE LAM
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