However, these policies have not brought much hope to young people like Chee Tsang, who feels it would be impossible to ever own her own flat. “[I can only] prepare for the worst. I think it is a waste of time [to plan for buying a house], because the plan is impossible to work out anyway,” she says.
Tsang is 25 years old and works as an assistant manager in an IT professional organisation. She earns HK$16,000 per month and lives in a 500-square-foot Home Ownership Scheme flat with her mother. Every month, she pays HK$800 for the Mandatory Provident Fund, HK$7,000 to her mother for family outgoings, HK$5,000 for her personal expenses and HK$1,700 for insurance. Therefore, she can only save HK$1,500 a month.
Tsang finds the gulf between people’s incomes and housing prices is so huge that it is pointless to cut personal spending in order to save. She feels almost desperate about her generation as there seems to be little social mobility.
“Many people, like me, have already strictly followed the ‘standard’ [set up] by society. You study hard, enter universities, find a decent job, become a white-collar worker and work hard,” Tsang says, “But even though you have done as the standard requires, you still cannot achieve your ideal life.”
Tsang says society has changed since her parents’ days, when people would be able to afford their homes as long as they worked hard. Instead, she feels the most important key to a promising future nowadays is a person’s family background.
Tsang is hardly alone in holding such a view, but Legislator Paul Tse Wai-chun disapproves of negative attitudes towards the housing problem. At a Legislative Council meeting at the end of January, he said university students should have greater vision, instead of fixating on getting public housing. His comments sparked fierce debates among young people online.
Tse believes housing is not a dire need for the young, “If you set your goal higher, you will walk towards your goal. If not, the only thing you see is the public housing flat, and you will only work for that,” he says.
Tse says, unlike the young in Western developed countries who would rather spend their money on education, travelling or other personal spending, Hongkongers always regard buying a home to be the most important and urgent task. He attributes this to a sense of insecurity, “Hong Kong does not have a complete welfare system, nor does it have a pension scheme. This leads to people’s anxiety about their future.”
In order to alleviate the housing problem young graduates face, the government recently proposed a scheme to turn vacant schools into youth hostels aimed at the working population aged 18 to 30. Successful applicants can stay for at most five years. However, they would be barred from the waiting list for public rental housing. This has discouraged many people from applying.
Apart from young graduates, there is another group of people who have great trouble purchasing their first homes. They earn more than the grass roots and so are excluded from both public housing and the Home Ownership Scheme. However, due to the high property prices, they are unable to afford private flats either. They are the lower middle class in Hong Kong, commonly referred to as the “sandwich class”.