香港大学的王于渐教授在报章上撰文,建议政府活化公营房屋市场,鼓励公屋和居屋居民积极参与市场活动,变现其住所的价值,借此释放过去被公共房屋政策所封锁的土地价值。王教授认为,充实了部分香港居民的口袋后,将诱发新的经济活力,疏解民怨之余,更可让社会的经济发展再上层楼。本文试论其议之优劣,并提出改良建议。

根据王文的统计,全港有16%家庭居住在自购的居屋,另有31%家庭正租住公屋,而自置物业的住户则有37%。最乐观而言,若把所有居屋和公屋住户提升成自置物业的业主,则全港自置物业住户将高达84%。根据星加坡的经验,高比例的自置居所业主将构成稳定社会的核心阶层,如此将有利维持香港社会稳定。另一方面,若居屋和公屋住户能随时出售其物业变现,将有利市民创业、就学和投资,如此将提升社会的经济活力和生产力。

目前的政策规定,所有在1982年以后购买居屋的业主,必须向政府补偿地价后,方可在市场上或租或售其物业。 「补地价」的计算方法,大概是当年政府兴建房屋的开发费用,和业主出售时该房屋市值之差。 「补地价」的原因不难理解,官地乃全港市民共享的公共财。政府拍卖官地使用权所收取的巨额收入,乃代全港市民向土地使用者(例如地产商)一笔过收取该片土地以后五十年的「土地使用费」的折现值(即一般人所理解的「地价」)。不论该片土地是私人或公家用途,该片土地的地价不会消失,却构成了私人住宅或公营房屋的成本。若香港政府在其上兴建公营房屋,低价租售,则代表全港市民放弃按市场价值租售该片土地,放弃赚取全部地价(按:地价等同未来市值租金的折现值,因此,放弃收取大部分市值租金,等同放弃大部分的地价),而把该片土地作社会福利用途(即补贴租金的公屋;或补贴售价的居屋)。换言之,该社会福利政策的主要成本,乃政府放弃拍卖土地所损失的地价。

政府向部分合资格市民按开发成本出售居屋,乃向居屋业主补贴当时的全部地价;若兴建公屋并收取低于市值的租金​​,其成本是放弃了大部分市场租金收入,亦同补贴地价。再者,在法律上居屋是私人物业,因此政府不可擅自把居屋改作其他用途,这等如政府放弃了出售当日的地价以外,亦放弃了该片土地日后的升值。由此观之,政府兴建公营房屋,而且不按市场价格租售,等如是强制全港市民共同负担因而损失的地价和地价升值,此财政损失就是提供房屋福利的经济成本。

因此,为公平起见,政府规定居屋业主出售房屋时,必须向政府补偿地价差额:不但要支付当年政府少收了的地价,更要补偿多年来的地价升值,这正是「补地价」的计算方法背后的逻辑。在公平原则上,这是恰当的安排:若居屋业主在出售房屋时,可全数赚取当时的地价,则等如政府在补贴业主在过往占用房屋的土地使用成本以外,再加送土地升值的经济利益。若此,这项只有16%家庭受惠的社会福利,不免过于慷市民之慨。可是,由于地价上升迅速,此出售限制构成了巨大的交易成本——一般住户无法或不愿预先支付巨额「补地价」,因此无法合法地标售其房屋。因此,目前并无任何有意义的居屋二手市场,居屋业主难以出售变现,只好终其一生住在该单位内。

经济上而言,无法出售变现的产权,是非完整的产权(按:完整的产权是一种权利,其拥有人能自由决定如何使用该物产;能合法获取使用该物产后所产生的收入;并能获取转让该物产后所产生的收益)。非完整的产权必然导致资源浪费和效率低落,而目前的居屋市场正是如此:有意迁走的居民不愿走;有意迁入的市民无法如愿;而且居屋的价值偏低,不能体现其土地价值。

为了针对上述难题,王文建议政府按居屋的落成日计算「补地价」,即是豁免居屋业主支付落成日后的地价升值。同理,根据「租者置其屋」计划购入公屋单位的业主,也可根据上述原则处理「补地价」,借此刺激二手居屋和私人公屋的市场交易,把目前非完整的产权活化成完整的产权。若居屋和私人公屋可租可卖,则轮候的市民无须干等公营房屋落成,在公开市场上将有额外的选择。

根据王文中的统计,过去三十年香港楼市升升跌跌,若不计算通货膨胀,至目前为止,总体而言实质上升了20%,加上通货膨胀的影响则肯定不止于此。若得此豁免,居屋(及小部分私人公屋)业主将一夜致富。部分业主将踊跃出售房屋,马上就构成居屋二手市场。如此,有意迁走的居民可带钱走;有意迁入的市民将可如愿。可是,往后的购买者必须支付市价,在此议中只有目前居屋或私人公屋住户可享此特殊利益。所以,此议等同政府把原来属于全港市民的地价升值,无偿出让给目前的居屋或私人公屋业主,以换取他们在公开市场上租售物业。不论动机如何,此乃政府所主导的经济利益转移,或可视之为另一种向居屋及私人公屋业主倾斜的社会福利。此福利乃不符公义:目前居屋或私人公屋业主之所以受其惠,全因当年的家庭入息符合入住公营房屋的规定。只根据当年的家庭入息,从而决定今天他们可平白获取一笔财富,既不公平,亦不符理性。

虽然如此,王文中的原则:活化公营房屋的二手市场,释放土地价值乃值得支持。因此,本文提议一个改良方案。本文认为政府无需改变现行「补地价」的计算方法,亦无须放弃收取地价升值,只需要改变支付方法,即可达到活化市场的目的。

目前的政策是要求住户先支付「补地价」,继而标售房屋。政府或可改为与业主订立合同,按目前的方法计算「补地价」,要求业主分期支付。若业主日后成功出售房屋,则未付清的「补地价」将转移至新业主的名下,由该名新业主接力支付余额。试举一例说明:假设当年房屋售价一百万,今天房屋市值三百万,按目前的规定,「补地价」是两百万。政府与住户订立合同,要求住户在未来二十年分期支付两百万,不另收利息,继后,住户将可自由出售该房屋。假设两年后,市值上升至三百五十万,而住户分期支付了二十万「补地价」,其余额减少至一百八十万。若住户按市价出售房屋,并转移未付清的「补地价」余额至新业主,则原业主可得一百七十万元收益(即房屋市值减去「补地价」余额),净赚七十万(按:其中五十万是「补地价」后的土地升值,二十万是取回之前已支付的「补地价」金额);新业主则以一百七十万元购得市值三百五十万的房屋,就算加上以后分期支付「补地价」余额,其财政负担尚算轻松,而且他可以享受日后全部的地价升值。同时,政府可保证在未来二十年收回「补地价」两百万元,而非平白送人。上述方法的主要代价是政府将损失未来二十年的利息收入,此可视为政府为活化市场而付出的补贴,即是便利市民置业的社会福利开支。如此将可解决王文中没有触及的公平问题。

上述方法也可运用在日后政府出售的公营房屋上:政府可以按市场价格定价,但把开发成本和地价分开,并规定置业者须马上支付开发成本,却可分期支付地价;而政府则可容许置业者自由租售该房屋。有此财政便利,市民将能更容易达成置业的梦想。另一方面,经活化公营房屋二手市场后,香港总体房屋供应将更充裕,而且购买公营房屋的业主可以享受地价升值的好处,更遑论置业者对社会的稳定作用,可谓一举多得。除此以外,上述方法只是延迟了置业者支付地价的时间,政府兴建的房屋并不会因为财政补贴而扭曲市场价格,不但不会干扰房屋市场,反而因二手市场更深、更广、更活跃,有助发现价格,令二手房屋市场比目前更有效率。

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One Response to 长空无二: 评王于渐活化公营房屋市场之建议

  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.

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