Hong Kongers bemoan city's housing problems, praise S'pore's public housing

They say Singaporeans are really fortunate.

Kayla Wong | May 04, 2019, 04:38 PM

Hong Kong is known for its sky-high housing prices.

In fact, it has the least affordable housing in the world.

A median home costs 20 times the gross annual median income in 2018.

This means an average working professional in Hong Kong has to save all of his or her earnings for 20 years without spending a single cent, just to get a place of his or her own.

In comparison, it takes about 4.6 years in Singapore.

Hong Kongers have often bemoaned their housing policies, and like many other issues they have, compare their situation with Singapore.

In other words, Singapore is held up as a benchmark when Hong Kongers look to whip themselves into shape, and a competitor when they are looking to make themselves more attractive.

Hong Kongers praise Singapore public housing

A recent Hong Kong programme highlighted the differences in housing policies in the two cities yet again.

The programme, Where You Live (人住公屋 我住公屋), explored housing solutions in various countries, such as Singapore, Japan, Austria, Spain, France and Denmark.

Its Singapore edition ran for four episodes, and is hosted by Jasper Tsang Yok-sing, a former Legislative Council president, as well as Leung Kwok-hung, or "Long Hair", who is a member of the Legislative Council.

Here are the points the show made.

Low income but still able to apply for HDB

The programme pointed out that while 44.8 percent of Hong Kongers live in public housing, the percentage is much higher in Singapore -- 81 percent live in an HDB (Housing & Development Board) flat.

It also claimed that in Singapore, a family's monthly income ceiling when getting an HDB flat is determined by the size of the flat applied for, and that it is more lenient as compared to Hong Kong.

For instance, even if a Singaporean family's monthly income is HK$100,000 (S$17,277), they can still apply for a flat.

Screenshot via 天空樹影視Skytree TV

The programme then made even more comparisons between the two cities.

More residential land in Singapore

The programme said that Hong Kong’s land mass is larger than Singapore by around 400 sq km, but each person living in Hong Kong has less living space as compared to Singapore.

This effectively means that Hong Kong is larger than Singapore by three times, and that it only has twice as many residents, but yet the residential land area in Hong Kong is much smaller.

Singaporeans have 323 sq feet of residential space each, while Hong Kongers only have 161 sq feet for the same purpose.

Screenshot via 天空樹影視Skytree TV

The narrator then asked: "Both cities are just two dots on the world map, but why doesn't Singapore face any land use problems?"

Housing is "cheap" in Singapore

The programme also interviewed a family living in a three-bedroom, 1,100 sq feet flat in The [email protected]

When they bought the flat seven years ago, it cost S$600,000.

They then explained that they paid a downpayment of 20 percent of the total price, and a subsequent monthly sum of around S$900 using funds from their Central Provident Fund (CPF) account, which they say is structured by the government for Singaporeans to buy public housing.

In general, they thought that public housing in Singapore is "cheap, and not expensive".

Even low-income families have somewhere to live in

When the hosts asked about the standard which the government uses to set the housing prices, they replied that private housing typically costs twice as much as public housing.

But what impressed the hosts the most was when the homeowners said the Singapore government pays for half of all maintenance costs in an HDB flat, though it is only limited to water leakage problems, and not applicable for problems with the outer walls.

They also remarked that the size of an HDB flat for low-income families, which is about 400 to 500 sq feet, is about the size of a two or three-room "nano" apartment in Hong Kong.

And while Leung said that Singapore might not necessarily be better than Hong Kong in everything, the two hosts concurred that Singapore is definitely doing better than Hong Kong when it comes to its housing policies.

Leung remarked: "In Singapore, as long as you're willing to work, your situation wouldn't be that bad."

"The Hong Kong government often says they are not responsible for helping you purchase a property of your own."

"But that's not what Hong Kongers are asking for. What they want is simply a place to live in."

Tsang added that if the Hong Kong government offers subsidised housing to its people, property developers would protest.

Singapore has higher population density

Not mentioned in the video is the fact that Singapore is more crowded, with an average of 7,792 people living on every sq kilometre, compared with Hong Kong's 6,780 people.

Despite this being so, Singapore has been able to provide more residential space with high-rise residential buildings.

Incentive for young Singaporean couples to get hitched?

Tsang also visited the HDB flat of a young married couple, who agreed with Tsang that the government policies of allowing couples to buy HDB flats before they turn 35 -- the age when singles or unmarried people are allowed to purchase their flats -- helped them make the decision to get hitched.

"I can't say for other people, but I guess it worked for us," the wife said.

Screenshot via 天空樹影視Skytree TV

Tsang then remarked that young couples in Hong Kong have it worse.

He said that while some Singaporean couples just have to wait for a few years to get their BTO (Build to Order) flats, Hong Kong couples might have to live separately at their parents' places until they are able to get an apartment of their own.

Singapore has already resolved the housing issue

At the end of the last episode, the two hosts made their separate conclusions about the comparative housing situations in both cities.

Tsang said that he couldn't have imagined any sort of government housing having the kind of standards he witnessed in Singapore.

He also made the observation that while the discourse in Singapore regarding housing has moved from simply having a place to live in to raising the quality of public housing, Hong Kong is still lagging behind in that area:

"If Hong Kong is still debating over whether or not we should have any homeless people, about how everyone should have a place to call home, and how the government is not obliged to help you buy a home, I think we are lagging behind (Singapore) by a few generations."

Screenshot via 天空樹影視Skytree TV

And Leung observed that the Singaporeans he talked to seemed to be proud of being homeowners.

"They seem to think: I'm Singaporean, I own a place of my own."

And while Tsang did not elaborate on the reasons that led to the housing crisis in Hong Kong, Leung did.

He said he is worried about the influx of Chinese capital into the city, as it means they have become a stakeholder in Hong Kong.

And that makes it hard for reforms to be pushed through in the legislature.

"Mainland China has the Communist Party, Hong Kong has the 'property developers' party," he said.

No solution in sight for Hong Kong?

The two did agree on one thing, however, and that is nothing can be done about Hong Kong's housing problem.

"I don't think there's any solution (to the housing problem in Hong Kong). Hong Kongers can only be envious for now," Tsang said. "It's not easy to change our current reality, because there are too many interests involved."

As for Leung he gave a rather philosophical view:

"Even if you resolve the housing problem, you can't resolve life problems. Honestly speaking, even if you ask me to come and live in Singapore, I wouldn't, because I feel that this society is duller (as compared to Hong Kong).

Life is not all about having a roof over your head, but if your entire life is dedicated to resolving your housing problem, that is worse than just having a place to live in.

Life for Hong Kongers now just revolves around their housing issue.

But Singapore has already found a solution!"

Screenshot via 天空樹影視Skytree TV

Video featured many Singaporeans happy with housing policies

The programme interviewed Singaporeans on the streets too -- with all of those who appeared on the show expressing their satisfaction with the government's housing policies.

Like this man, who said no one complains about housing in Singapore.

Screenshot via 天空樹影視Skytree TV

And this middle-aged woman who said she is contented with living in an HDB flat.

Screenshot via 天空樹影視Skytree TV

As well as this woman who said she does not have to worry about burglars breaking into her flat.

Screenshot via 天空樹影視Skytree TV

And although this woman said she is dissatisfied with the huge amounts of smoke at times, it was her only complaint, and she was still overall pleased with her housing arrangement.

Screenshot via 天空樹影視Skytree TV

Commenters in awe of Singapore

Several online commenters praised Singapore's housing policies too, after comparing them to Hong Kong's.

Screenshot via 天空樹影視Skytree TV

"Singaporeans are really fortunate."

Screenshot via 天空樹影視Skytree TV

"The Hong Kong government serves mainland China, while the Singapore government serves its own people..."

Screenshot via 天空樹影視Skytree TV

"The more I look at Singapore, the more pissed I get. You'll understand that Hong Kong's housing problems are due to the corruption and incompetence of the Hong Kong government."

Screenshot via 天空樹影視Skytree TV

"Hong Kong's housing policies are tragic for its citizens."

Screenshot via 天空樹影視Skytree TV

"Don't understand why Hong Kongers only like to say Singapore's housing policies are good? Actually, I think what the Singapore government's policies on racial harmony and education are way better. Hong Kong can afford to learn from these two areas!"

Why is housing in Hong Kong so expensive?

Hong Kong is renowned for its low taxes, making it one of the best places for investments and businesses to thrive.

Where then, does the Hong Kong government get its revenue from?

The answer lies in the profit it makes when it sells land to the highest bidding property developers, who are increasingly from mainland China.

These property developers then demand high prices for the housing they build.

And as the Hong Kong government makes a good amount of money through land sales — almost 30 percent — it earns less if property prices drop, which is also one of the reasons why taxes can be kept low.

This puts a drag on resolving the housing problem by curbing the cost of housing.

Top image via featured video