Following is the speech delivered by the Secretary for Housing, Mr Dominic Wong, today (Wednesday) at the Legislative Council Panel for Housing on the Chief Executive's 1999 Policy Address:
* I am pleased that the Chief Executive's Policy Address - including the initiatives on housing - has been well received by the public. The three Policy Addresses published by the Government of the HKSAR so far have set out our housing policies in a consistent and coherent manner.
* I wish to review our achievements in housing since reunification with the Mainland of China on 1 July 1997, and then to speak briefly on some of the new initiatives in the year ahead.
B. Long Term Housing Strategy
* In February 1998, we published a White Paper on our Long Term Housing Strategy entitled "Homes for Hong Kong People into the 21st Century". It sets out the strategy for achieving our objectives of providing adequate and affordable housing for all people and for encouraging home ownership. This is the first White Paper in any major policy area published after reunification.
C. Our achievements since 1997
* Since then, we have made substantial progress in translating our vision into reality. Over the past two years, we have provided public rental housing to 73,000 families in the low income group, and we have helped over 100,000 low and middle income families buy their own flats.
* We have promised to embark on a total of 45 initiatives, of which 14 have been completed; 28 initiatives are on schedule, and one is under review. We are expediting work on the remaining two initiatives, which are related to new legislation.
* We have set up a systematic model for assessing housing demand. We are now conducting a new survey of housing aspirations, including a sub-survey of elderly households.
* Following the nine-month moratorium, we resumed land sales for housing development in April 1999. In the coming five years, we will provide 205 hectares and 382 hectares of land for public and private housing development respectively. To respond more flexibly to market demand, we have introduced a new system for land sales.
* We have drawn up a rolling 13-year flat production programme of public and private housing development, co-ordinated by the Housing Bureau. An accountability system and a mechanism for solving problems quickly have been put in place. The Housing Bureau is responsible for monitoring the progress of housing projects.
* We have reviewed and streamlined procedures concerned with the planning and construction of housing and housing-related infrastructure adopted by the Housing Authority, the Housing Department, the Housing Society, the Planning Department, the Lands Department and the Territory Development Department.
* In the face of economic instability in the region, we have continued to ensure fair and free operation of the private residential property market. After the recent period of economic difficulty, the market has stablised. Some 22,300 flats were completed by private developers in the past year. Prices have become more stable and affordable. Speculation has subsided.
* It remains our intention to achieve an overall home ownership rate of 70% by 2007. Areas of importance will be the continued expansion of the Tenants Purchase Scheme which helps public housing tenants to buy their own flats; the Buy or Rent Option; an increase in the provision of home ownership loans; and implementation of the popular Home Starter Loan Scheme.
Public rental housing
* We have taken a very major step this year to help those aspiring to public rental housing. We have encouraged better-off tenants to move out of public rental housing and will evict them, if necessary. We have introduced comprehensive means tests on entry and on the death of principal tenants and their spouses. The average waiting time for public rental housing has fallen to six years, and the length of the waiting list has been reduced to fewer than 120,000.
Estate Agents Authority
* We have set up the Estate Agents Authority with a view to enhancing the standard of service provided by the trade and providing consumer protection.
Groups in special need
* We remain committed to addressing the housing requirements of groups in special need. We are on schedule to meet all our existing commitments in respect of these groups, including the elderly, residents of old-style temporary housing areas and cottage areas, and occupants of roof-top structures and bed-space apartments.
D. New initiatives
* In addition to this impressive list of achievements, I will mention briefly three major policy changes which will complement our strategic framework set out in the Long Term Housing Strategy White Paper.
Means of provision
* In his Policy Address last year, the Chief Executive asked me to consider the option of replacing a proportion of subsidised home ownership flats with loans, thus providing a wider choice to prospective home buyers. Following discussion with various groups, I intend to work out the details for such a scheme within the next few months. There are many advantages in providing loans : a wider choice for home buyers to meet their individual needs; stimulating the private sector; reducing the burden on taxpayers; and helping the market to adjust quickly to short term changes in demand.
* I wish to point out that the Government has no intention of replacing the Home Ownership Scheme (HOS) entirely by a loan scheme. The HOS has been well received and will continue. The loan scheme aims at achieving our target of promoting home ownership more cost-effectively. We will adopt an incremental approach in carrying out the scheme, and will review developments and adjust to changes in the market.
* I will discuss with the Housing Authority the proposal and the implementation details. I hope the scheme can commence in about four years time.
* The gradual transfer of housing production from the public sector to the private sector will mean that additional land will be put into the Land Sale Programme.
* I wish to stress that this change in direction will not diminish our commitment to people in genuine need. Through the Housing Authority and the Housing Society, we will continue to meet the housing needs of low income people.
* The Housing Authority will review the ways to meet the housing requirements of both local and newly arrived families fairly and effectively. We intend to relax the "majority rule" and to treat equally children born in Hong Kong and underaged children born outside Hong Kong. Depending on the outcome of this review, we will make more land available to the Housing Authority if necessary so that our other housing pledges will not be adversely affected.
* We have carried out a review of the needs of singletons who have, for historical reasons, not hitherto been given sufficient attention in our housing programmes. Having consulted the Housing Authority and the Housing Society, we will provide an additional 6,000 public rental flats to singletons, with a view to reducing their average waiting time for public rental housing gradually to three years by 2005, in line with all other households.
* We hope also to open up the Home Ownership Scheme, the Private Sector Participation Scheme, the Flats for Sale Scheme and the Home Purchase Loan Scheme to singletons. We will work out the details with the Housing Authority and the Housing Society.
* We will set aside $150 million each year for providing not fewer than 500 loans each year under the Home Starter Loan Scheme to eligible singletons. Each successful applicant (with monthly income not exceeding $22,000 and assets not exceeding $400,000) will be able to obtain a loan up to a maximum amount of $300,000 at low interest. We will seek the approval of the Finance Committee of the Legislative Council shortly in respect of this relaxation.
* "Better housing for all" has always been the target of our work. I am grateful for Members' support and views on various housing issues in the past two years.
* My colleagues and I will now be happy to answer questions.
END/Wednesday, October 13, 1999