25 April 2019

Why it’s easy for Frank Chan to say ‘more to life than a home’

When you hold a senior position and live comfortably in a spacious government-provided accommodation, you can perhaps afford to wax philosophically on the needless struggle for home ownership.

Well, how else can one explain comments made by Frank Chan Fan who said this week that having your own home is no big deal and that young people shouldn’t obsess about buying a flat.    

Fielding questions from youngsters during an event on Monday, Hong Kong’s housing secretary said young people should pursue interests such as travel, and not just focus on owning an apartment.

There’s more to life than owning a home, Chan said at the forum which was streamed live online.

During the event, which was organized by the Hong Kong Federation of Youth Groups, the official was quizzed on the burning issues pertaining to his job, particularly the ever-rising home prices and their increasing unaffordability.

When someone complained that it has become almost impossible for young people to have their own home, Chan said there are other, more important, things in life.

Asked for his thoughts as to when home prices will come within reach or if they will fall at all, Chan said he is no expert on the housing market as he doesn’t own any property himself.

“I want to know too,” said Chan. “You all know that I do not have a property. I do not have a crystal ball so I do not know when the property market will fall.”

True, the engineer-turned-administrative officer does not own a property, as is the case with his boss Carrie Lam, who said recently that she won’t be able to afford a home in Hong Kong Island with her pension.

Lam, of course, doesn’t need a flat now, given that she is living in the Government House as the city’s chief executive.

Returning to Chan, one must acknowledge the difficult situation that the housing secretary is finding himself in after he took his current post four months ago.

Amid sky-high property prices, young Hongkongers are becoming frustrated as they know that prices will only rise further and the queue for public housing will only get longer.

The residential price surge has intensified the wealth gap between the “have” and “have not’ in the city, causing disaffection among the younger generation and posing a threat to the social fabric.

Asked whether he has plans to stop mainlanders from buying property in Hong Kong, one of the reasons behind the crazy upward spiral in residential prices in the last seven years, Chan was tactful in his response. 

As an export-led economy, Hong Kong should not resist people coming here for property investment, he said.

He said the government had in the past launched several policies such as stamp duty to suppress the demand for property, but noted that many investors still come here because of the low interest rates and cheap money.

While admitting that there are no quick-fixes to the problem, Chan said young people shouldn’t fret too much about home ownership and that they should turn their attention to other things in life. 

Youngsters should keep their eyes wide open, go out and see the world, he said, urging them to seek experiences — through working holidays, for example — rather than material things.

“When you make more money, you can buy property of course,” said Chan. “But youngsters should not just set their sights on buying homes. Real estate is only a small part of your life.”

True, there’s more to life than owning a home, but Chan is mistaken if he thinks his words will convince young people to give up on their housing dream, however unrealistic the goal may be. 

By not owning a property, Chan — and his boss Lam — have proved that you do not need to own a home to be successful or powerful in Hong Kong.

But the official should know that given the socio-economic environment, as well as cultural factors, having a home that one can call your own is still the main aspiration for most locals.

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EJ Insight writer

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