香 港大學的王于漸教授在報章上撰文,建議政府活化公營房屋市場,鼓勵公屋和居屋居民積極參與市場活動,變現其住所的價值,借此釋放過去被公共房屋政策所封鎖 的土地價值。王教授認爲,充實了部分香港居民的口袋後,將誘發新的經濟活力,疏解民怨之餘,更可讓社會的經濟發展再上層樓。本文試論其議之優劣,並提出改 良建議。

根據王文的統計,全港有16%家庭居住在自購的居屋,另有31%家庭正租住公屋,而自置物業的住戶則有37%。最樂觀而言,若把所有居屋和公屋住戶提升成 自置物業的業主,則全港自置物業住戶將高達84%。根據星加坡的經驗,高比例的自置居所業主將構成穩定社會的核心階層,如此將有利維持香港社會穩定。另一 方面,若居屋和公屋住戶能隨時出售其物業變現,將有利市民創業、就學和投資,如此將提升社會的經濟活力和生産力。

目前的政策規定,所有在1982年以後購買居屋的業主,必須向政府補償地價後,方可在市場上或租或售其物業。「補地價」的計算方法,大概是當年政府興建房 屋的開發費用,和業主出售時該房屋市值之差。「補地價」的原因不難理解,官地乃全港市民共享的公共財。政府拍賣官地使用權所收取的巨額收入,乃代全港市民 向土地使用者(例如地產商)一筆過收取該片土地以後五十年的「土地使用費」的折現值(即一般人所理解的「地價」)。不論該片土地是私人或公家用途,該片土 地的地價不會消失,卻構成了私人住宅或公營房屋的成本。若香港政府在其上興建公營房屋,低價租售,則代表全港市民放棄按市場價值租售該片土地,放棄賺取全 部地價(按:地價等同未來市值租金的折現值,因此,放棄收取大部分市值租金,等同放棄大部分的地價),而把該片土地作社會福利用途(即補貼租金的公屋;或 補貼售價的居屋)。換言之,該社會福利政策的主要成本,乃政府放棄拍賣土地所損失的地價。

政府向部分合資格市民按開發成本出售居屋,乃向居屋業主補貼當時的全部地價;若興建公屋並收取低於市值的租金,其成本是放棄了大部分市場租金收入,亦同補 貼地價。再者,在法律上居屋是私人物業,因此政府不可擅自把居屋改作其他用途,這等如政府放棄了出售當日的地價以外,亦放棄了該片土地日後的升值。由此觀 之,政府興建公營房屋,而且不按市場價格租售,等如是強制全港市民共同負擔因而損失的地價和地價升值,此財政損失就是提供房屋福利的經濟成本。

因此,為公平起見,政府規定居屋業主出售房屋時,必須向政府補償地價差額:不但要支付當年政府少收了的地價,更要補償多年來的地價升值,這正是「補地價」 的計算方法背後的邏輯。在公平原則上,這是恰當的安排:若居屋業主在出售房屋時,可全數賺取當時的地價,則等如政府在補貼業主在過往佔用房屋的土地使用成 本以外,再加送土地升值的經濟利益。若此,這項只有16%家庭受惠的社會福利,不免過於慷市民之慨。可是,由於地價上升迅速,此出售限制構成了巨大的交易 成本——一般住戶無法或不願預先支付巨額「補地價」,因此無法合法地標售其房屋。因此,目前並無任何有意義的居屋二手市場,居屋業主難以出售變現,只好終 其一生住在該單位内。

經濟上而言,無法出售變現的產權,是非完整的產權(按:完整的產權是一種權利,其擁有人能自由決定如何使用該物產;能合法獲取使用該物產後所產生的收入; 並能獲取轉讓該物產後所產生的收益)。非完整的產權必然導致資源浪費和效率低落,而目前的居屋市場正是如此:有意遷走的居民不願走;有意遷入的市民無法如 願;而且居屋的價值偏低,不能體現其土地價值。

爲了針對上述難題,王文建議政府按居屋的落成日計算「補地價」,即是豁免居屋業主支付落成日後的地價升值。同理,根據「租者置其屋」計劃購入公屋單位的業 主,也可根據上述原則處理「補地價」,借此刺激二手居屋和私人公屋的市場交易,把目前非完整的產權活化成完整的產權。若居屋和私人公屋可租可賣,則輪候的 市民無須乾等公營房屋落成,在公開市場上將有額外的選擇。

根據王文中的統計,過去三十年香港樓市升升跌跌,若不計算通貨膨脹,至目前爲止,總體而言實質上升了20%,加上通貨膨脹的影響則肯定不止于此。若得此豁 免,居屋(及小部分私人公屋)業主將一夜致富。部分業主將踴躍出售房屋,馬上就構成居屋二手市場。如此,有意遷走的居民可帶錢走;有意遷入的市民將可如 願。可是,往後的購買者必須支付市價,在此議中只有目前居屋或私人公屋住戶可享此特殊利益。所以,此議等同政府把原來屬於全港市民的地價升值,無償出讓給 目前的居屋或私人公屋業主,以換取他們在公開市場上租售物業。不論動機如何,此乃政府所主導的經濟利益轉移,或可視之為另一種向居屋及私人公屋業主傾斜的 社會福利。此福利乃不符公義:目前居屋或私人公屋業主之所以受其惠,全因當年的家庭入息符合入住公營房屋的規定。只根據當年的家庭入息,從而決定今天他們 可平白獲取一筆財富,既不公平,亦不符理性。

雖然如此,王文中的原則:活化公營房屋的二手市場,釋放土地價值乃值得支持。因此,本文提議一個改良方案。本文認爲政府無需改變現行「補地價」的計算方法,亦無須放棄收取地價升值,只需要改變支付方法,即可達到活化市場的目的。

目前的政策是要求住戶先支付「補地價」,繼而標售房屋。政府或可改爲與業主訂立合同,按目前的方法計算「補地價」,要求業主分期支付。若業主日後成功出售 房屋,則未付清的「補地價」將轉移至新業主的名下,由該名新業主接力支付餘額。試擧一例説明:假設當年房屋售價一百萬,今天房屋市值三百萬,按目前的規 定,「補地價」是兩百萬。政府與住戶訂立合同,要求住戶在未來二十年分期支付兩百萬,不另收利息,繼後,住戶將可自由出售該房屋。假設兩年後,市值上升至 三百五十萬,而住戶分期支付了二十萬「補地價」,其餘額減少至一百八十萬。若住戶按市價出售房屋,並轉移未付清的「補地價」餘額至新業主,則原業主可得一 百七十萬元收益(即房屋市值減去「補地價」餘額),淨賺七十萬(按:其中五十萬是「補地價」後的土地升值,二十萬是取回之前已支付的「補地價」金額);新 業主則以一百七十萬元購得市值三百五十萬的房屋,就算加上以後分期支付「補地價」餘額,其財政負擔尚算輕鬆,而且他可以享受日後全部的地價升值。同時,政 府可保證在未來二十年收回「補地價」兩百萬元,而非平白送人。上述方法的主要代價是政府將損失未來二十年的利息收入,此可視爲政府為活化市場而付出的補 貼,即是便利市民置業的社會福利開支。如此將可解決王文中沒有觸及的公平問題。

上述方法也可運用在日後政府出售的公營房屋上:政府可以按市場價格定價,但把開發成本和地價分開,並規定置業者須馬上支付開發成本,卻可分期支付地價;而 政府則可容許置業者自由租售該房屋。有此財政便利,市民將能更容易達成置業的夢想。另一方面,經活化公營房屋二手市場後,香港總體房屋供應將更充裕,而且 購買公營房屋的業主可以享受地價升值的好處,更遑論置業者對社會的穩定作用,可謂一舉多得。除此以外,上述方法只是延遲了置業者支付地價的時間,政府興建 的房屋並不會因爲財政補貼而扭曲市場價格,不但不會干擾房屋市場,反而因二手市場更深、更廣、更活躍,有助發現價格,令二手房屋市場比目前更有效率。

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2 Responses to 長空無二: 評王于漸活化公營房屋市場之建議

  1. I am privileged to receive such considered and profound comments. Let me thank you for taking the time and effort to do so. I think there are two important issues you raised. The first issue is whether a “lesser” subsidy can be devised. Your recommendation in favor of an installment plan is one such device.

    Let me take up this first issue here.

    I think to make the public sector housing market function the crucial issue is whether the subsidy is “lesser” or “greater”. A household has no incentive to sell the unit if the windfall gain is not “greater”. It is not simply a matter of being greedy. At the very least the household will have to be able to purchase another unit to find shelter using the proceeds from the sale. If a substantial portion of the proceeds have to be returned to the Housing Authority then he may not be able to afford another unit.

    The only households who would sell under such circumstances will be those who are in desperate. I know a couple who lived in a Tenant Purchase Scheme unit they had bought earlier. They decided to become divorced and sold the unit. Each party obtained about $200,000. One party went to live in Shenzhen the other rented a single room. They each kept one child. Both divorced parents are now applying for public rental housing again. Sounds almost farcical that the Housing Authority is now obliged in due course to assign one unit to each of them, but such is the reality of a bureaucracy administered public housing program.

    An interest free installment plan provides some subsidy. But it is a “lesser” subsidy. Perhaps this is more acceptable.

    Thinking out aloud I have some observations.

    Today, an owner of an HOS or TPS unit has the right to pay the unpaid land premium at a time of his choice. Suppose we have Mr. Wong who purchased an HOS unit in 1985. He can theoretically choose to repay the land premium anytime after the initial holding period that prohibits the owner to sell the unit on the open market. This initial holding period was 10 years and it was later modified to 5 years. So theoretically Mr. Wong could have chosen to repay the land premium after 1995. Let us suppose he decides in 1999 that this was a good year to repay his land premium because the property market was at the bottom in 1999. If he cannot afford the required amount, he can theoretically find a phantom banker to mortgage his unit at an interest rate of say 5% per year, sign over his unit to the bank as collateral, and structure his loan so that he will pay back both the accumulated interest and the loan principal at the time when he sells the unit. He and the banker can agree that the period where he can exercise such an option is 10 years or less. He then takes the borrowed money from the banker and repays the Housing Authority.

    Of course it is not likely to find such a phantom banker in the market.

    I wonder why couldn’t the government step in and become this phantom banker. He will even make 5% interest rate which is probably close to the average market interest rate over the long term. The proposition above empowers Mr. Wong with to exercise his right to determine the date to “fix” his land premium, which he has chosen to be 1999. When he sales the unit on the market in 2008 he will just have to surrender to Housing Authority a sum equal to the amount of the land premium that was fixed in 1999 plus 9 years of interest accumulated at 5%. I shall assume Mr. Wong got a good deal.

    It is possible that government may be willing to charge an interest below 5%, or even a zero rate if society feels that a “greater” subsidy is acceptable. And if the government is willing to grant an unlimited time period for Mr. Wong to sell his unit rather than the 10 years with a phantom banker, then it will be even better.

    Will you find this way of settling the unpaid land premium acceptable? I see no reason why Mr. Wong should not be given the option of choosing when he will be allowed to fix the date (a right he has now) and therefore the amount of the land premium. And would you prefer having government charge 0%, 2% or 5%? I am not overly dogmatic about this. But I would think if society benefits from the establishing a market in public housing than there is a case for government to charge less than 5%.

    If government assumes this role a formula is set to determine and settle the land premium conditioned on Mr. Wong choosing the date for fixing the premium.

    I believe this is a reasonable way of settling the land premium on a unit that has already been “sold” to Mr. Wong. For government to sell a unit at a discount, but to retain the appreciation on land value is really mean; feudal I would say. It is almost like slave owners telling their slaves that your offspring are mine, and their offspring too, ad infinitum. With phantom bankers the worst deal one gets is to be charged 5% otherwise you are still your own boss. With government you become a house serf.

    If you find this way of putting the case acceptable then there is very little conceptual difference between the above proposition and my original suggestion for fixing the unpaid land premium at the original date of purchase. In the case of Mr. Wong this should be 1985 rather than anytime after 1995. I was all along conscious of the possibility that 1985 could be a high point in the property market and 1999 may be a bottom. Fixing any date will be arbitrary and the best option is to let the occupant choose. But the existing occupants in the program never had this option in the past. So if we are going to introduce this option say in the future we must find a way to solve the problem of fixing the land value for those who did not have the option in the past.

    If we only allow these existing occupants to choose dates for fixing land values from 2013 onwards then the market for public sector housing units would not be active as very few people would be willing to sell their units at such a high premium. So it is necessary to fix the date in the past and this will be somewhat arbitrary no matter what.

    I can think of only four options, but I am sure there are other sensible ones.

    (1) Ask the occupant to pick any date in the past after their purchase date.
    (2) Use the original purchase date.
    (3) Use the date when the initial lock up period ends.
    (4) Use either option (2) or (3) whichever is lower.

    If we choose to charge them a high interest rate than I think option (1) would make more sense. If we choose to charge a low interest rate than options (2) or (3) will make some sense.

    My original recommendation was option (2) at a zero interest rate.

    The second issue is whether it is fair to give a group of households (actually about half the population) such a “greater” subsidy. What is the moral basis for so doing? This is a difficult question and I will try to address it in one of my future articles. I doubt I will have anything profound to say except to revisit the views of some philosophers. Still it will be good to clarify matters.

    In light of your comment and recommendation on the first issue, you appeared willing to accept the position that a lesser subsidy can be morally acceptable (this is good!) or at least politically acceptable.

    My concern is that without providing a “greater” subsidy the market would not have many transactions. And without this the benefits of having the market will not really materialize. And even those who are not in the program cannot benefit.

    The public housing program is unique because the subsidy given by the government (or equivalently the taxpayer) is much larger than the subsidy received by the occupant. The taxpayer gives out a subsidy equal to the land value plus the development cost of unit minus the rent or price paid by the occupant. This total value includes the value associated with the right to transfer the unit, but the occupant does not receive it, because he is denied it by regulation. The value associated with the right to transfer the unit is very valuable and rises with time. The taxpayer cannot get it back unless the occupant surrenders the unit to the government, which is unlikely to ever happen. By disallowing the occupant the right to transfer the government has actually evaporated this value. Accountants of course will continue to pretend it still exist on the books.

  2. Lam Wai-leung says:

    Dear Professor Wong,

    I am very interested in your idea of having a “phantom mortgage banker” to unleash the HOS secondary market. If such a phantom banker is not available in the market, I am just wondering if it is possible to have concerted efforts including Hong Kong Mortgage Corporation and MPF intermediaries in place to work this thing out.

    Now, the Mortgage Corporation has implemented the Premium Loan Guarantee Scheme of which several financial institutions are willing to take part in this scheme.

    I suggest bringing the MPF scheme into play and turning this HOS premium loan scheme to be a registered MPF Scheme. People can select their monthly MPF contribution to this kind HOS premium scheme ensuring the funding. With this in place, I believe other financial institutions may be interested in this kind of business.

    This is only my initial thought and hopefully other experts in the operation of MPF schemes may shed more light on this to see whether it is workable or not.

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