OPINION: Is Hong Kong’s Housing Problem Just ‘the Old Bullying the Young?’

OPINION: Is Hong Kong’s Housing Problem Just ‘the Old Bullying the Young?’
Photo Credit: AP/達志影像

What you need to know

Hong Kong's property problem goes well beyond a lack of space, it reflects a global generational tension.

In the past decade, housing prices have become completely unaffordable in Hong Kong; the more new home buyers wait in the market, the larger the housing problem becomes.

Many people in cramped Hong Kong think of the housing problem simply as a lack of land, and the government has scoured the territory for more suitable real estate on which to build. This is too simplistic a view — one which just contributes to the issue.

The housing problem started with policies laid out in the early 2000s under the government of Donald Tsang Yam-kuen, aimed at creating a “stable property market.”

However, the exact opposite occurred.

Government actions distorted the market and property developers manipulated prices beyond what the vast majority of the public could afford. Developers profited hugely, but common citizens became “invisible slaves,” especially young people just starting their careers without much accumulated wealth.

This isn’t just a Hong Kong problem — there are soaring property prices from London to L.A. to Sydney. Home ownership has been on the decline in the U.K. and Australia, with the 25-34 year demographic hit hardest in Britain; Americans 35-44 experience the most problems.

Here’s the real issue: those 65 and above have experienced rising homeownership during the same period.

The UK, Australia and the US have no real shortage of land, but property prices have become untenable. The excuse that there is a lack of land is simply an exercise in tunnel vision, missing the point entirely.

What Hong Kong really needs is to examine how this situation came to be — how the elderly have seen rising homeownership while the young working class doesn’t. Baby boomers received so many benefits during the post-WWII recovery period and they were able to take up high positions in various fields and accumulated wealth which they could invest for further rent seeking after retirement.

This accumulation of wealth and privilege can be described as the highest level of prosperity that Hong Kong has ever experienced, or it can be seen as the extreme inequality of capitalism. Those who got into the game early get a disproportionate return and a comfortable life.

For those who start work later, it is nearly impossible to work hard and earn a living; they get an image that the elderly are bullying them.

I, myself, am a baby boomer. What I have written is not a critique of my peers, but an admission that the time one is born has a great influence on their fate. We must thank our own lucky circumstances and understand young people’s dissatisfaction with society.

We must not say that old people work hard while young people are lazy. If we really care about Hong Kong, we need to think deeply about how we want our society to operate and permit workers to be rewarded in proportion to their work and let them attach importance to their own labor.

To solve the housing problem, we need to abandon the simplistic, one-dimensional idea of a land shortage — we should study the many policies and measure that caused this problem and find realistic ways to solve it.

Read next: Hong Kong Handover: Riding the Property Roller Coaster

The original Chinese-language article can be found here.

TNL Editor: Morley J Weston


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