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China Times: Affordable housing key to boosting economy

2014/02/12 18:58:52

Premier Jiang Yi-huah's 13 specific goals for economic stimulus and prosperity will mean nothing to the general public if the government does not focus on the issues most important to the people: stagnant salaries and the cost of living.

At the base of social concerns today are a lack of confidence in the economy and a pessimism about the future. The first step to resolving public discontent is making the notion of "housing justice" a reality.

The numbers show it all. The house price-to-income ratio for all of Taiwan has shot up since the financial crisis, from 7.1 in 2007 to 9.2 in the third quarter of 2013. In Taipei, it's significantly more severe; New Taipei City's ratio leapt from 7.1 to 11.4, while Taipei City's skyrocketed from 8.6 to 14.7.

A local magazine broke the numbers down further based on figures from 2012. The average dual-income family in Taiwan would have to put their entire salaries aside for 35 years to buy a home in the capital, where a 40-ping (132 square meters) home goes for around NT$35 million (US$1.16 million).

For couples on Taipei salaries, it's marginally better: they only have to stop eating, drinking, and spending on anything else for 27.5 years to buy a home.

The government's most vital task is to make owning a home possible for regular people, and in this endeavor it would do well to learn from the examples set by public housing projects in Singapore and Hong Kong. There is an obviously severe lack of public housing in Taiwan, and the current programs are overpriced and filled with problems, making it difficult for low-income families to get their hands on one.

Contrast that to Singapore's commitment to making housing available to all and drive to "let people buy a home on four years of salary."

It's time for the Ministry of the Interior to make a stand and promote affordable housing as what it is: a necessity. Housing prices should be based on income to give young people a chance at owning their own homes, and the government should raise awareness of its efforts to do so among the public. And of course, more public housing should be rolled out, as in Singapore and Hong Kong.

Moreover, national development plans must follow relevant regulations. The government can even consider limiting each individual to one piece of property.

If housing justice is implemented with the same fervor that drove the 10 Major Construction Projects that built Taiwan up in the 1970's, a happy public will push forward an economic resurgence themselves. (Editorial abstract -- Feb. 12, 2014)

(By Wesley Holzer)