China

A massive street protest took place on Friday in Hong Kong as people vented their rage against high housing prices and other social and political issues. Housing prices are sky-high and a lot of new construction is on luxury apartments while low-income and middle-income housing are inadequate. Wealthy Chinese buyers have been blamed for causing this (certainly not the first instance of a problem where mainland Chinese are blamed) though it’s very sketchy in my view. Mainland Chinese home buyers are wealthy people who don’t blink an eye in plunking down millions on apartments in posh districts like on HK Island, not regular working-class or middle-class professionals looking for affordable homes in Kowloon or the New Territories. Of course, housing price increases probably filter down throughout the various levels of homes but the other problem is assuming that if there weren’t all these wealthy mainland Chinese home buyers, then Hong Kong developers would be building more affordable housing. Based on my slight and indirect understanding of the mentalities of HK corporate types such as property developers, I’d think no, for them it’s all about the money. Hong Kong has always been one of the most expensive places for housing and if rich Chinese homebuyers weren’t flocking, then HK developers would be finding other ways to build luxury developments.

The size of this protest also demonstrates that Hong Kong actually has a lot of struggling people, which belies its image as a glamorous, first-world, world-class city. About 18 percent of HK people are believed to be living in poverty and a lot of working class professionals are probably struggling as well, especially in buying homes as the people quoted in that NY Times article testify. The final person quoted sums up the problems in HK very well: “There is real anger with the government, a deep feeling that the government is in collusion with property developers and tycoons,” said Ken Borthwick, a Hong Kong architect who participated in the demonstrations Friday.“If you look at Hong Kong, you’ve got a tiny number of tycoons and a small number of very privileged people,” he said. “The middle class thinks it stinks, and I don’t think the government has much compassion for the people on the streets.”

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