on 9 January 1998
ITEM FOR FINANCE COMMITTEE
HEAD 251 - HOUSING
Hong Kong Housing Society
New Subhead " Home Starter Loan Scheme "
Members are invited to approve the creation of a new subhead "Home Starter Loan Scheme" under Head 251 Housing with a commitment of $18 billion to provide the Hong Kong Housing Society with funds to make loans under the new Home Starter Loan Scheme.
We need to provide the Hong Kong Housing Society (HKHS) with sufficient funds to enable it to administer a new loan scheme which aims to assist eligible families in acquiring their own residential properties in Hong Kong for the first time.
2.We propose to provide a sum of $18 billion over the next five years from the Loan Fund to the HKHS to establish and operate a "Home Starter Loan Scheme" (HSLS).
Home Starter Loan Scheme
3.As pledged by the Chief Executive in his Policy Address on 8 October 1997, we propose to introduce an HSLS to provide financial assistance targeted at first-time home buyers. The HKHS will act as the implementation agent for Government in providing beneficiaries with one-off, up-front loans towards meeting down-payments and related home purchase expenses. The HSLS will provide about 6 000 loans each year to eligible families. The key features of the scheme are as follows -
- income of applicants - there will be no minimum income requirement. The maximum income limit for households will be set at $70,000 a month;
- assets of applicants - a net aggregate assets limit of $1.2 million per household will be set to ensure that the scheme benefits those who have a genuine need for assistance;
- property ownership restriction - as the scheme aims at providing assistance to first-time home buyers, we will impose a condition that applicants must not currently own any residential property in Hong Kong, nor have owned one during the last ten years. This should be a sufficiently tight criterion to ensure that the scheme will benefit first-time home buyers;
- loan amount - the maximum loan amount will be $600,000, or up to 30% of the purchase price of the property, whichever is lower;
- permitted value and age of property - to allow greater flexibility to applicants, there will be no limit on the value of property to be purchased. The maximum permitted age of the property will be 30 years;
- interest rate - there will be two interest rates, depending on the incomes of beneficiaries at the time of application. This will take into account the better financial position of those with higher incomes. For households with incomes not exceeding $30,000 per month, the annual interest rate will be set at 2%. For households with incomes between $30,001 and $70,000 per month, the annual interest rate will be set at 3.5%. Interest will accrue from the day of drawdown;
- loan repayment - repayment will start in the fourth year after drawdown of the loan, by 120 equal monthly instalments; and resale restrictions - we will adopt the same resale conditions as those applying to the Sandwich Class Housing Loan Scheme (SCHLS). That is to say, in addition to repaying the loan and any interest accrued thereon in full on disposal of the property, applicants who sell their property within three years of purchase will have to pay the HKHS the gain in property value, while applicants who sell after this three-year period will only have to pay an administrative charge.
4.Government will have the right to revise from time to time the details of the scheme in the light of changing circumstances.
5.The HKHS will draw from the Loan Fund the money for operating the HSLS in five annual instalments of $3.6 billion each from 1998-99. This is calculated on the basis of 6 000 loans a year at $600,000 per loan.
6.The HKHS will repay Government within two months after the end of each financial year, all sums received through repayment or recovery of loans during that financial year, less any reasonable expenses which it has incurred in implementing the scheme. Expenses will be mainly staff costs for processing the applications, legal and professional fees and general overheads.
7.The HKHS will set up a fund separate from its other accounts to cater for the receipts and payments under the HSLS. The Society will use money from the fund for the HSLS only and may invest monies which are not required for use by the HSLS for the time being in bank deposits, commercial papers or other low-risk investment instruments according to guidelines approved by Government. All investment income will accrue to the HSLS.
8.The HKHS will furnish Government with quarterly reports on, inter alia, the financial position of the fund, the number of successful applicants, the amounts of loan drawn, principal and interest repaid, investment income, performance on investment of surplus and such other information as required by Government. An independent auditor will conduct an annual audit on the accounts of the fund. Government may also require the HKHS to return any unspent balance in the fund after giving a reasonable notice.
9.We will require the HKHS to enter into an agreement with Government which sets out the financial arrangements for and the implementation details of the HSLS. The HKHS will be responsible for inviting and processing applications according to the eligibility criteria set out in Enclosure 1, or as modified by Government from time to time.
Impact on the property market
10.The scheme will not have a significant impact on the property market. Assuming an annual production rate in the private sector of 35 000 flats, a maximum of 17% of these flats could in theory be taken up by successful applicants under the scheme. However, we expect that many beneficiaries will purchase in the secondary market, especially since the limit on the age of the flats which can be purchased under the scheme is relaxed to 30 years.
11.We propose to create a new subhead "Home Starter Loan Scheme" under Head 251 Housing with a commitment of $18 billion. The proposed loan is a one-off commitment. There are no recurrent implications.
12.Home ownership is important to both the community and the individuals. It helps foster social stability and a sense of belonging to the community. It also helps families provide for their own future financial security. The policy of promoting home ownership as set out in the Long Term Housing Strategy Review consultative document released in January 1997 received strong support from the community.
13.The current home ownership rate is 52%. The Chief Executive pledged in his speech on 1 July 1997 that Hong Kong would aim to achieve a home ownership rate of 70% in ten years. In order to achieve this target, we intend to provide increased opportunities for low and middle-income families to fulfil their aspirations to home ownership. The measures we shall take include expanding existing subsidised home ownership schemes1 , providing more loans for home purchase, implementing a scheme to sell public rental flats to tenants, and implementing a "buy or rent" scheme under which we offer public rental housing waiting list applicants the opportunity to buy flats when their turn comes for flat allocation. The latter measures will mainly benefit those in public sector housing, and most will originally be public housing tenants or prospective tenants. We must also take steps to meet the aspirations to home ownership of those who wish to buy in the private sector but lack the means to do so : these include not only low income families but also families in the middle-income group, and many of these families would be first-time home buyers.
14.At present, Government operates two loan schemes designed to help low and middle-income families buy flats in the private sector. The Home Purchase Loan Scheme (HPLS), operated by the Housing Authority, was set up in 1988 to help low-income families. The SCHLS operated by the HKHS, was introduced in 1993 to help middle-income households. These schemes have persistently been oversubscribed2 , demonstrating the extent of pent-up demand. Simply expanding these schemes, however, will not provide an adequate solution. This is because -
- the HPLS is targeted at low-income families with incomes below $30,000 a month, and mainly benefits public housing tenants (Green Form applicants). About 70% of loans approved over the last two years have gone to Green Form applicants, and the Hong Kong Housing Authority has not accepted new White Form (private sector) applicants since November 1996;
- the SCHLS is targeted at families with monthly incomes in the $30,001 to $60,000 range3 . It was originally intended to be an interim scheme, pending the construction of an adequate number of flats under the Sandwich Class Housing Main Scheme; and
- neither of these schemes is specifically targeted at first-time home buyers.
15.It is against this background that the Chief Executive announced in his Policy Address on 8 October 1997 that a new "Home Starter Loan Scheme" will be launched, targeted at first-time home buyers.
Hong Kong Housing Society
16.The HKHS was established in 1948 and incorporated under the Hong Kong Housing Society Ordinance in 1951. The Society plays a major role in supplementing the housing development programmes of the Hong Kong Housing Authority, particularly in providing adequate and affordable housing to selected target groups.
17.Government does not directly subsidise HKHS but provides both land on concessionary terms (subject to conditions on use) and low interest loans to help the Society meet specific housing objective.
18.A table listing key features of the HSLS, as compared to the two existing schemes, i.e. the HPLS and the SCHLS, is at Enclosure 2.
1.These are : the Home Ownership Scheme and Private Sector Participation Scheme operated by the Hong Kong Housing Authority; and the Flat-for-Sale Scheme and Sandwich Class Housing Loan Scheme operated by the HKHS.
2.Over-subscription by an average of three times in respect of the HPLS and four times in respect of the SCHLS in the last two years.
3. Currently about 65 600 families in this group do not own domestic private property.
Enclosure 1 to FCR(97-98)86
Eligibility Criteria for the Home Starter Loan Scheme (HSLS)
Households will qualify for a loan under the HSLS if -
1. HOS and HPLS: Home Ownership Scheme and Home Purchase Loan Scheme operated by the Hong Kong Housing Authority; SCHS and FFSS: Sandwich Class Housing Schemes and Flat-for-Sale Scheme operated by the Hong Kong Housing Society
- the applicant has lived in Hong Kong for at least seven years and is a permanent resident of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region;
- there are at least two family members, including the applicant, in each application;
- the aggregate net assets of all the persons included in an application do not exceed $1.2 million;
- total monthly income of all the persons included in an application does not exceed $70,000;
- none of the persons included in the application has owned any residential property in Hong Kong within the previous ten years; and
- none of the persons included in the application are authorised tenants/occupants of public rental units, nor have they enjoyed other publicly funded housing loan or home ownership schemes (such as the HOS, HPLS, SCHS and FFSS1 ).