EDITORIAL: Facing Taipei’s housing problems

Sun, Mar 24, 2013 - Page 8

Taipei Mayor Hau Lung-bin’s (郝龍斌) appointment on Tuesday of a land economics professor at National Chengchi University as the city’s new deputy mayor has caught many people off-guard. Hau’s pick of Chang Chin-oh (張金鶚) has done a lot more than filling a position left vacant by Executive Yuan Secretary-General Chen Wei-zen (陳威仁) last month; it signifies his determination to deal with the housing problems in the city.

Hau, whose second term in office ends next year, needs someone capable enough to help him solve the deadlock over the Wenlin Yuan (文林苑) urban renewal project in Shilin District (士林) and the ongoing disputes between local residents and store owners at the Shida Night Market in the city’s Daan District (大安). He also needs a real-estate expert to push forward his campaign promises about building affordable housing in the city as well as to relaunch the Taipei Twin Towers project near the Taipei Railway Station. Otherwise, the mayor’s legacy could be marred by a plethora of housing problems — which could pose a threat to his political future.

The question is whether Chang can help the mayor deliver on his promises. Chang is well-known for his strong criticism of what he calls the city’s “runaway real-estate prices.” Will this appointment turn out to be a blow to Taipei’s property market?

While Chang is definitely eloquent when speaking of social justice in his view of Taiwan’s housing market and economic development, it is anyone’s guess if he is destined to become yet another academic-turned-politician forced to bow out because of poor negotiating skills and impractical policies. We have seen such incidents before, with one of the latest examples being former minister of finance Christina Liu (劉憶如), who resigned last year over the implementation of a capital gains tax on securities transactions.

Regardless, one should consider what the government has been doing in recent years to tame property speculation and curb rising prices. For instance, the Ministry of the Interior has introduced a measure to report actual prices for property transactions; the Financial Supervisory Commission has tightened real-estate acquisition requirements for domestic life insurers; the Ministry of Finance has adopted a special levy on short-term property transactions; and the central bank has implemented selective credit controls on domestic lenders regarding housing loans.

However, given low interest rates and a still-strong liquidity, housing prices remain high in metropolitan areas and the new deputy mayor alone is not likely to make a significant impact on the city’s property prices.

Even so, people would like to see Chang stop talking solely about social justice and instead offer something substantial to show that he understands the complexity of the urban renewal process. More importantly, Chang must show that his appointment can help the city government play a more credible role during the process of negotiating settlements with residents as well as a more constructive role in attracting businesses in the city’s property development.

Chang is recognized for his zealous pursuit of social justice and transparency in the real-estate market. However, he must step out from his ivory tower and prove that his ideas are workable in the real world. It will be to Chang’s credit if he does this in the right way; yet it could be a double-edged sword for Hau if his bets on Chang prove misplaced.