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Matthew Brooker

A Property Boom Built on Invisible Slums

Hong Kong has a housing crisis that goes beyond a critical shortage of land. There is no easy solution.

The consequence of a housing policy failure.

The consequence of a housing policy failure.

Photographer: Paul Yeung/Bloomberg
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A booming stock market at a time of pandemic recession and widening inequality is an unfortunate combination, so the tax raid on the Hong Kong exchange shouldn't be a surprise. Soaking well-to-do finance types to help pay for consumption handouts sends a convenient populist message. It may also serve to deflect attention from the government’s failure to tackle the biggest contributor to the city’s wealth gap: property.

Annual home supply in the coming five years is expected to be 38,280 units, based on figures in last week’s budget, falling 11% short of the government’s target of 43,000, according to Bloomberg Intelligence’s Patrick Wong. Public housing supply will be 33% below an annual goal of 30,100. By contrast, regional rival Singapore, which runs a comprehensive public housing program, has a glut of apartments. A year ago, Hong Kong Financial Secretary Paul Chan said the government was pressing “full steam” ahead with the recommendations of a task force set up to examine inadequate land supply, though that line didn’t feature in the 2021 presentation. The government will sell 15 residential sites in the coming year, capable of providing a mere 6,000 homes.