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Saturday, October 15, 2011

More affordable homes for all

RISING price pressures amid a low or no growth environment is bound to cause worries among many quarters. This seems to be the situation faced by many countries in different continents of the world today.

From Europe to the Middle East and Asia, much of the world is still embroiled in this unenviable situation.

During such times, more affirmative actions and policies need to be undertaken by governments to help the people tide over the difficult and challenging times. And these should include long-term policies that address livelihood issues such as the high cost of living and its inverse effect on the people's standard and quality of living in general. Rising prices are evident in the property market. In less than a decade, especially in the last two years, property prices have shot up a number of folds to levels that are out of the reach of the common people.

In Hong Kong, the high housing and rental costs brought tens of thousands of demonstrators to march in the streets on July 1.

Many common folks are still caught in a quandary as the steep housing prices and rising cost of living have caused much worry and discontent.

This is further exacerbated by the gloomy global economic outlook that shows the much-feared second dip is quite likely to happen. The road ahead will get even more daunting before things get any better.

It is no wonder that public housing is fast becoming an important social agenda needing urgent government attention if societies are to continue to be functional and sustainable.

It is encouraging to note that the Malaysian Government is looking into providing more affordable and medium-cost public housing to cater to the needs of the people.

To ensure this noble measure gets off on the right footing, it should be planned based on a long-term and holistic approach. But it should not take too long as the country's public housing policy is in a state of disarray and in need of an urgent overhaul if it is to serve the needy. If well planned and executed, the affordable-housing and public housing schemes will turn out to be among the best efforts in improving the quality of life and encouraging home ownership among the middle- and lower-income groups.

While pricing the property affordably is one of the main objectives of the public housing initiative, there should not be any compromise on the quality of these projects.

It is also vital to ensure that these projects are accessible to good public transportation facilities and are close to public amenities like local grocer, convenient stores, and medical and education facilities. The lower-income group is most dependant on these amenities to improve their standard of living.

The implementation of the selling process has to be transparent and fair to ensure the projects will benefit all deserving and needy Malaysians.

The decision to raise the limit of house prices under the My First Home Scheme from RM220,000 to RM400,000 beginning January 2012 has brought some cheers as it will give more young people wider choices of property to choose from.

In view of the rising house prices in the urban areas, it will widen the opportunity for first-time home owners to buy bigger and better houses.

Despite the higher price margin, buyers should know their limitations and should refrain from committing carelessly. Buying a more expensive unit will mean they will have to commit to higher mortgage loan which will lower their household disposable income.

To keep the frothy property market in check and rein in price hikes, more impactful measures need to be implemented. One of the effective ways to nip speculative buying in the bud is to tighten the mortgage loan requirement and to discontinue the easy housing packages .

The relatively easy credit facilities provided by the banking sector will mean that property prices look set to remain on their upward trend in the near term.

Banks should be reminded of their duty to help to promote a balanced and sustainable property market, and should not give out loans easily if home prices shoot up artificially.

Meanwhile, developers should look into building more value into their projects rather than merely hyping up the concepts and designs. During challenging times, it is meaningful to go back to the basics of having simple but practical and occupant-friendly designs, while some of the frills can be provided as options to lower the property price.

Developers should look into more practical and functional designs and layouts, such as offering houses with bigger floor space. That way, two generations from the same family can be the joint owners to share out the cost. Although they may be living under the same roof, the design of the house will ensure privacy and individual space for the inhabitants.

This is also one practical way of keeping our traditional “extended family” practice alive.

Deputy news editor Angie Ng believes having empathy and a willingness to provide for those left behind will promote greater understanding and harmony in our society.

By The Star (by Angie Ng)

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