23 January 2019
Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam is expected to announce a significant initiative next month to help first-time homebuyers. Photo: CNSA
Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam is expected to announce a significant initiative next month to help first-time homebuyers. Photo: CNSA

Expectations mount over starter-home policy from Carrie Lam

Public perceptions and expectations, rather than the actual ground reality, can often determine the popularity and prospects of political figures.

Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je, for instance, has seen his popularity get restored thanks to the public’s perception that he was instrumental in the success of the Taipei Summer Universiade last month.

In Hong Kong, the city’s new chief executive, Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, has managed to shift market expectations on housing prices with a new affordable housing scheme, getting an image boost in the process.

Let’s first talk about how Ko regained his popularity in Taiwan.

Ko started his political career by serving as the mayor of Taipei since 2014. After a short honeymoon period, the former doctor saw his approval rating fall off after he failed to make any major change. And his outspoken personality also hurt.

His approval rating once slumped to the 20-30 percent range in early 2017, putting him at the bottom among the mayors of Taiwan’s six major cities.

But things changed dramatically after Taipei hosted the 2017 Summer Universiade successfully in August.

Taiwanese players have won 26 gold medals, 34 silvers and 30 bronzes in the games. That marked their best-ever performance in the games.

At a time when Taiwan is grappling with stagnant economic growth amid falling mainland tourist arrivals and lackluster trade activities with China, the excellent performance of Taiwan players in the Summer Universiade has boosted the spirits of local residents.

Mayor Ko made frequent public appearances during the Taipei games. He also made speeches at the opening and closing ceremonies. For that, he has been credited with the success of the event.

However, the games and the work that went behind them actually had little to do with Ko.

Taipei won the bid for hosting the 2017 Summer Universiade in 2011, when the former mayor Hau Longbing was in charge of the efforts to beat a rival hosting bid from Brazil’s capital Brasilia.

Also, most of the related stadiums and infrastructure projects were completed under Hau’s leadership.

The outstanding performance of Taiwan athletes, too, has nothing to do with Ko. The contribution of Ko’s administration, if any, was just ensuring the smooth conduct of the event.

Nevertheless, Ko has benefited a lot from the success of the summer international university sporting event. His approval rating has soared nearly to 90 percent in a recent poll. He was even considered as a front-runner for the 2020 presidential election.

Now, coming to Hong Kong, Chief Executive Lam took up the reins of government in July, with locals not expecting too much from her in terms of major policy initiatives.

Critics dubbed her ‘CY 2.0’, meaning that she would be just another version of her unpopular predecessor, Leung Chun-ying.

Lam vowed to mend fences with the pan-democrats, but the pledge was viewed with skepticism. Meanwhile, there is also no quick-fix to the city’s chronic problems like land shortage.

But public perceptions of Lam are changing after she revealed that she will announce a new starter-home policy when she delivers her maiden policy address next month.

Lam’s popularity could get a bump, given reports that the new policy will help families with monthly income of HK$50,000 to HK$70,000 to buy their first home, and that the units will be priced well below market levels.

Even if the proposed scheme may only provide a small number of units and may not make any big difference in the short term, the policy direction could cool down anxiety among many people who currently find it very hard to afford a home.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Sept 12

Translation by Julie Zhu

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Hong Kong Economic Journal columnist

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