Home ownership and social change in a Chinese society : the case of Hong Kong.
In the last two decades, the housing system in Hong Kong has witnessed a slow but
steady transition from a tenure dominated by public rental housing to one dominated by
private home ownership. This was largely the result of a strong motivation to own property
and a government policy promoting owner-occupation. However, the late 80's and the early
90's have seen one of the most speculative and buoyant housing markets of the world with
house price inflation creating major problems of affordability for the middle classes. A
sector of the middle class is seen as marginalized by the housing system. They have no
access to public rental housing, few choices in private-renting and are unable to afford home
ownership. Concomitant with this, the society also saw a significant sector within the middle
class which made enormous capital gains through property transactions and home ownership,
developing a life style closely associated with certain modern private housing estates.
This thesis seeks to examine factors underlying this contrasting housing picture.
Using the rational model as a point of departure, Part I of this thesis explains the limitations
of rationality in coming to terms with the social genesis of home ownership. In particular,
the constraints and possibilities of existing perspectives on home ownership are explored.
As an additional dimension, the thesis suggests the adoption of a cultural perspective which
emphasizes three important dimensions unique to the Hong Kong housing scene, that is, the
history of housing and individual housing experiences, the Chinese family, and the
contemporary middle class consumption culture. In addition, one of the key arguments
introduced in this part is that a research methodology based on individual housing histories,
one which seeks to unravel the deeply-embedded social relationships of housing, is more
robust and fills an important gap in methodology and provides a more rounded discussion on
the relationship between home ownership and social change.
Part II of the thesis represents the empirical arm. In particular, evidence from case
studies demonstrated that middle class home owners in Hong Kong generally suffer from
extreme deprivation in housing in their upbringing, hence predisposing them to a keen search
for housing improvements in later life. The emphasis of the Chinese family on family
property and their strong attachment to mutual-aids has also created a system of intra-family
banking to support home financing amongst family members. Absolute scarcity in housing
as well as a burgeoning middle class home ownership culture has also enabled many middle
class households to reap substantial capital gains throughout the 80's. However, evidence
also suggested that such gains were highly fragmented, depending on the time of marketentry
and the accessibility to housing finance. The conclusion of the thesis calls for a reexamination
of the role of state amongst small, congested and high growth countries in
promoting ownership and argues that extremities in geographical constraints could severely
limit both the range of housing policy and the role of the state.