The government housing development in Wang Chau in Tuen Mun has attracted a lot of publicity following the election of legislator Eddie Chu Hoi-Dick. The original plan to build 17,000 flats has been scaled down to 4,000 units. Land that is owned by indigenous people will remain untouched and the new builds will displace only the occupants of green belt zones. This change to plans has led to accusations of secret scheming between the statutory advisory body Heung Yee Kuk and city officials.
The whole saga has been an excellent demonstration of why we need checks and balances in our administration, which is something that the Legislative Council is not exactly known for. Accusations of officials being in cahoots with local villagers are nothing new, but the unprecedented amount of attention that is being given to this situation is an example of how we have become more and more fixated upon property prices and housing.
Owning property is seen as more important than it should be in our lives. We may dream of creating a fantastic business empire or becoming a respected lawyer, but these aren’t dreams for their own sake – they’re a means to an end. We don’t see getting a promotion at work as a reward in itself, we see it as a way to make more money. We can then use this money to buy flats and rent them out for profit. When we are given different opportunities to pursue, we will opt for stressful high paying jobs in industries like finance or banking, leaving low paying jobs that may be more personally rewarding short of recruits.
This has a negative impact on how we place value on things – we may see service and charities as worthy things, but we would rather become a homeowner. The obsession with owning houses has led to people buying property purely to sell or rent. This has driven up residential and business rental fees to astronomical rates, and has been one of the main factors for why small businesses and independent shops are being replaced by big chain stores that can afford the rent.
Young entrepreneurs who may have fantastic start-up ideas are unable to find decent office space, and young couples put most of their salary towards housing expenses rather than in the bank for the future.
The wage-property price gap is the main reason for the growing social discontent that can be felt in Hong Kong, and the Wang Chau development would not have generated as much interested had it not involved the building of residential housing. I’m not saying that home ownership is the source of all evil, but the obsession with owning a home has led us to neglect other aspects of life.