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Impact of the U.S. Mortgage Market on the Midterm Elections

Mortgage availability might be at historical highs but according to a new study, that’s not going to help U.S. President Donald Trump—nor his party—come 2020.

According to “Mortgage Market Credit Conditions and U.S. Presidential Elections,” the availability of mortgage credit, or really, the lack thereof, can have a serious impact on who wins presidential elections.

When credit availability is low, voters take it out the incumbent—or the incumbent’s political party. In 2008, it might have even lost John McCain the election. Without the shrinking of mortgage credit during George W. Bush’s tenure from 2004 to 2008, the study found that nine swing states could have gone to McCain rather than Barack Obama.

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In fact, according to Charles Calomiris, professor of financial institutions at Columbia Business School and one of the study’s authors, the housing collapse, along with the decline in mortgage availability during Bush’s administration, played a “dramatic role in state-by-state outcomes in the 2008 election.”

“Pundits, political analysts and campaign operatives on a national level need to be looking at mortgage availability for everyday Americans to understand who’s going to win the White House,” Calomiris said. “We discovered that mortgage credit crunches are far more powerful than rising unemployment as a barometer for electoral success.”

But could those same findings translate to smaller-scale elections, like the midterms in November? According to Calomiris, in theory, yes. But will they? Probably not this time around.

That’s because the study also found that when mortgage availability is high—as it is now—there’s not much impact on voter behavior.

“I don’t really think [today’s high mortgage availability] is going to help the Republicans in this election because people don’t really credit the incumbent party when they get their mortgage,” Calomiris said. “Our sort of interpretation, which is a mixture of psychology and economics, is like this: When your mortgage gets approved, you think you did it. When your mortgage gets denied, you think somebody else did it.”

Still, the possibility that it could impact midterm elections this November is there. According to Milton Ezrati, chief economist at Vested, it would likely impact Senate races more than House ones.

“It might have more impact on senatorial elections because senators are associated with larger questions than representatives,” Ezrati said. “Mortgage availability has improved, but, of course, the study points out that such improvements help a lot less than deterioration would hurt. Still, it removes one problem incumbents would otherwise face.”

More likely though, the mortgage market will play a bigger role come 2020.

“I would say that the real interesting question might be about the presidential election of 2020,” Calomiris said. “It’s certainly not impossible to imagine that sometime between now and two years from now, you could start to see a real decline in mortgage availability.”


Why disruptive technologies matter for affordable housing: The case of Indonesia

Big Data. Blockchain. Drones. E-Wallets. Artificial Intelligence. These are words that one would expect to hear at the latest conference in Silicon Valley, not during a discussion of Indonesia’s affordable housing challenges. Yet they were buzzing through the captive crowd in Jakarta at the Disruptive Technologies Workshop for Affordable Housing on September 17, 2018. The event, hosted by Indonesia’s Ministry of Public Works and Housing with support from the World Bank’s National Affordable Housing Program (NAHP), was attended by 150 participants from local public agencies, developers, lenders, and community organizations. The workshop’s goal was to explore one big question: How might Indonesia harness the power of disruptive technologies to transform its housing ecosystem?

Indonesia cities are growing faster than those of its Asian neighbors at a rate of 4.1% a year. However, the benefits of urbanization – economic growth and poverty reduction – won’t be fully realized until the country can increase access to basic services and invest in affordable housing for its residents. An estimated 820,000 to 1 million housing units are needed on a yearly basis to meet the growing demand between now and 2030.

Indonesia’s current housing situation dovetails with the rapid development of its technology sector. There is strong start-up culture that has birthed local giants like Go-Jek, which started as a simple ride-hailing app for motorcycle taxis and expanded to over a dozen services, including food delivery, massage booking, and mobile payments. Go-Jek is currently valued at close to $5 billion. Through its ascent, it has revolutionized aspects of life in Indonesia’s cities and contributed to a booming gig economy.

Workshop participants were keen to discover: were there other budding technologies out there, like Go-Jek, which could change the way Indonesia approached housing? Here are a few of the promising pitches that were presented to the group.

Citizen-centric mobile application that facilitates home self-construction processes

Who it’s forHouseholds; construction workers; contractors; lenders; developers; policymakers
Why it’s neededMost housing is self-built, as it’s often the only financially affordable option. Access to credit is limited, and the construction sector is largely unorganized and informal. Government subsidies given towards self-build projects are difficult to track and highly vulnerable to fraud.
How it worksUsing the mobile platform, users find contractors and get quotes for projects, purchase materials, track the progress of construction projects, rank quality of services and make mobile payments to vendors.  E-wallets help ensure that government subsidies are being used for intended purpose.
Why it’s promising·         Empowers citizens to take control of the home construction process

·         Improves transparency, organization, and competition in a huge informal construction sector

·         Aggregates data on previously informal transactions to boost inform policy-making


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City Planning Lab Affordable Housing Suitability Tool 

Geospatial planning tool that identifies optimal locations for affordable housing developments

Who it’s forSpatial planning agencies, central and local government, and developers
Why it’s neededGovernment-subsidized housing projects are often poorly located on multiple factors. They tend to be far from the central business district, geographically risky, and lack access to basic services and employment centers.
How it worksUsing the online tool, which combines geospatial and satellite data, users can generate a heat map that displays optimal locations, based on a detailed list of critical factors such as access to
Why it’s promising·         Boosts local government capacity to identify more optimal, and thus more successful, locations for affordable housing

·         Facilitates collaborative and informed decision making

IBM Blockchain  
Secure, transparent, and efficient digital ledger that streamlines land titling processes

Who it’s forLow-income and informal populations; NGO’s; Land Planning Agencies; lenders
Why it’s neededNearly 20% of urban slum dwellers don’t have formal tenure on their homes, which means they can’t access formal financing for home improvement. The process for obtaining this tenure in Indonesia is inefficient and costly.
How it worksNetworks of community workers survey and map land/ property ownership in a “fit for purpose” manner, and use blockchain – a public, secure, decentralized digital ledger – to streamline the mapping process and accelerate land titling.
Why it’s promising·         Streamlines the process and reduces the transaction costs of obtaining formal tenure

·         Provides a uniquely secure, transparent, and tamper-proof method of documentation

Property PriceTag  
Use of Big Data and new technologies to track housing supply and demand for informed decision-making

Who it’s forPublic agencies; developers; lenders; other key stakeholders
Why it’s neededData on the housing market is currently scattered across public and private agencies, and difficult to analyze in real time and on a large scale.
How it worksBig Data is consolidated across various sources, including public and private data, and data gathered through innovative methods (i.e. trained Artificial Intelligence bots that can count the number of individual homes on satellite images).
Why it’s promising·         Equips policymakers and companies to make more timely and informed decisions with regard to the housing market

·         Technologies to be incorporated into the development of NAHP’s Housing Real Estate Information System, a real-time housing database used for decision-making by both the public and private sector

The technologies described above are just the tip of the iceberg of what was discussed at the workshop.  No longer a luxury of advanced economies, these disruptive innovations hold vast potential to empower informed decision-making, formalize the informal, and radically reinvent housing value chains to transform the affordable housing sector and improve the lives of millions. Of course, as with any technological advancement, there are serious issues to consider and plan for such as consumers’ privacy rights protection and cybersecurity in an age of interconnectedness. It’s a tricky task for any government to navigate, but one well worth the waterfall of benefits.



Builders report that construction growth is slowing in the UK

Small and medium sized builders in the UK remain positive about the construction outlook but the number of new homes being built is slowing and costs are continuing to have an impact.

Overall construction grew at a slower rate in the third quarter of 2018 compared to the previous quarter, according to the latest state of the trade survey from the Federation of Master Builders, the only quarterly assessment of the SME building sector.

Overall some 32% of members reporting rising workloads compared with 41% in the second quarter of the year and activity rose at a slower pace in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland, with Wales being the country to see activity increasing at a faster rate.

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There have been 22 consecutive quarters of positive growth, which means that construction SME workloads have now been on the rise for more than five and a half years, but there are still challenges, the survey also shows.

Indeed, some 86% of builders believe that material prices will rise in the next six months, 58% foresee wage increases over the next six months, up from 54% in the previous quarter and 68% are struggling to hire bricklayers, a peak figure last reached in the fourth quarter of 2017, while 59% are struggling to hire carpenters and joiners.

According to Brian Berry, FMB chief executive, a number of factors are contributing to the current outlook. ‘Anecdotally, we are hearing worrying reports of banks withholding previously agreed funding for projects which is delaying start dates and dampening growth. This may or may not be related to Brexit nerves,’ he said.

‘The construction skills shortage is also taking its toll. More than two thirds of construction SMEs are struggling to hire bricklayers and brickies are easily the most sought after tradespeople in the building industry currently. These latest figures match the highest we’ve noted since records began a decade ago,’ he pointed out.

The survey also shows that expectations for the future have become weaker with 36% of respondents forecasting higher workloads, down from 46% in the previous quarter. In contrast, those predicting no change to workloads grew, to 51% from 41%.

Berry believes that the slowdown in growth should ring alarm bells for the Government and give rise to a total rethink of its post-Brexit immigration proposals. ‘Currently, the Government wants to significantly limit the number of construction workers coming into the UK post-Brexit, labelling them low skilled and therefore somehow surplus to requirements,’ he explained.

‘Migrant construction workers are indispensable with 13% of our construction workers being from outside of the UK. If construction firms are unable to hire migrant workers post Brexit, the already severe skills crisis will worsen. This will mean we won’t be able to the build the new homes the Government is keen on delivering and infrastructure projects will grind to a halt,’ he said.

‘It is imperative that the post-Brexit immigration system allows construction firms to continue to hire workers of varying skill levels. We hope the Government heeds the warning that these latest results show, before it is too late,’ he added.

Source: Property Wire

Property prices, rents continue to fall in Dubai, latest data show

Residential property price falls in Dubai have been more pronounced than rental rate changes, with values down 4 per cent in the third quarter of 2018, the latest index report shows.

Prices for villas fell by 13per cent over the quarter and apartment prices were down by 14per cent, according to the Asteco Dubai real estate report.

In the lettings sector apartment rents were down by 3per cent and villa rents down by 3per cent quarter on quarter. On an annual basis they fell by 11per cent and 9per cent respectively.


A relatively new trend are initiatives such as rent to own schemes and crowdfunding to stimulate the market and tap into, what Asteco believes, is a significant amount of pent-up demand from end users and/or first time buyers.

In addition, real estate professionals and participants have been increasingly vocal in urging the UAE Central Bank to lower existing loan to value ratios to facilitate home ownership for those unable to afford the current mortgage deposit requirements.

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“Although no such changes have yet been announced there appears to be a consensus among many that these reforms would provide the stimuli needed to boost the real estate market,’ the report says.

“With the 2018 Dubai Cityscape around the corner, it will be interesting to see the extent of new project launches and how developers plan to entice Investors, whether with proven schemes or by offering new and improved incentives and payment terms,’ it added.

In the rental market, locations with high handover volumes recorded the sharpest rental rate declines and a significant rise in tenant turnover and the report points out that wider economic uncertainties resulted in many residents downsizing, or to seek value for money properties in less established areas.

Conversely, many tenants continued to take advantage of the abundance of choice and decreasing rents to upgrade to larger units, better quality specifications and/or more popular locations and rental rates are expected to come under further pressure this year, a trend that is likely to spill over into early 2019.

The total anticipated delivery for 2018 is now estimated at 16,750 residential units an d the report says that this while still a significant volume, this figure represents a notable decline on previous projections.

Although the number of project delays is substantial, it is noteworthy that construction milestones have in general been met with delays ultimately resulting from overly ambitious handover programmes.

As such, a sizeable number of units previously forecasted for completion in the second half of the year will fall into 2019.

Source: Guardian

Sri Lanka Chooses India Over China in US$300 Million Housing Deal U-turn

Sri Lanka has reversed a decision to award a US$300 million housing deal to China in favour of a joint venture with an Indian company, the government said, ahead of a visit by the prime minister to its South Asian neighbour.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe will meet his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi on Saturday in New Delhi, the Indian capital, for talks. The two countries have long-standing ties, partly because of cultural and ethnic links with Tamils, many of whom live in the island’s north and east.

In April, state-run China Railway Beijing Engineering Group won a tender worth more than US$300 million to build 40,000 houses in Jaffna in Sri Lanka’s north, with China’s Exim bank to provide funding.

But the project was halted after residents demanded brick houses, saying they preferred their traditional type of dwelling instead of the concrete structures the Chinese firm had planned.

On Wednesday, government spokesman Rajitha Senaratne said the cabinet had approved a new proposal for 28,000 houses worth 35.8 billion rupees (US$210 million) to be built by Indian firm ND Enterprises and two Sri Lankan firms in the north and east.

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The planned homes are part of a total requirement of 65,000, he added.

“The rest of the houses will be given to firms which are ready to build them at lower prices,” Senaratne told reporters in Colombo, the Sri Lankan capital, adding that China could also be considered in future for the remaining housing projects.

In Beijing on Thursday, foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang told a regular news briefing China’s cooperation with Sri Lanka was derived from consultations on an equal footing and he hoped that cooperation would be viewed objectively.

Critics have said a big Chinese port project and related infrastructure in Sri Lanka’s south have been dragging the country of 21 million people deep into debt.

India has built 44,000 houses in the country’s north in the first phase of reconstruction after a 26-year war with Tamil Tiger rebels, and plans to rebuild Palaly airport and Kankesanthurai harbour, both heavily damaged in the conflict.

But in recent years, China has swept in, building ports, power plants and motorways as part of Beijing’s String of Pearls strategy to build a network of friendly ports across Asia.

India has long considered Sri Lanka, just off its southern coast, as within its sphere of influence and sought to push back against China’s expanding maritime presence.

Source: South China Morning Post

Nomura to Pay US$480 Million to US Over ‘Fraudulent’ Mortgage-backed Securities

NEW YORK: Nomura Holdings Inc has agreed to pay US$480 million to resolve civil claims by the U.S. government that it misled investors in marketing residential mortgage-backed securities, U.S. authorities said on Tuesday.

Nomura knowingly bundled defective mortgage loans into marketable securities from 2006 to 2007 and misled investors about their quality, authorities said. The settlement stems from an investigation by federal prosecutors in New York.

“This settlement holds Nomura accountable for its fraudulent conduct in connection with its residential mortgage-backed securities offerings, which caused substantial harm to investors and contributed to the financial crisis of 2008,” said Richard Donoghue, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, whose office conducted the probe.

Nomura said in a statement it did not admit any wrongdoing in connection with the settlement, and disputed the allegations.

Authorities accused Nomura of falsely telling investors that it conducted extensive due diligence on the home loans that it securitized, when in fact they did not comply with underwriting guidelines or relied on fraudulent appraisals.

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Nomura continued the practices despite warnings from its due diligence staff, who warned that Nomura was “turning into the lemming of the mortgage business” and dealing with “extremely dysfunctional” loan originators, authorities said.

Nomura’s misconduct caused “significant losses” for its investors, including retirement funds and university endowments, according to Donoghue’s office.

Nomura was previously ordered to pay a total of US$839 million together with Royal Bank of Scotland Plc in a lawsuit brought by the Federal Housing Finance Agency, which has acted as conservator of mortgage agencies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac since their 2008 takeover by the federal government after the collapse of the U.S. housing market.

Source:    Brendan Pierson in New York; Editing by Dan Grebler and Jeffrey Benkoe, Reuters

Vancouver Leads Canada’s First Home Sales Decline in Five Months

Canadian home sales declined for the first time in five months as activity in Vancouver and Toronto weakened.

Sales in Vancouver fell by 1.5 per cent in September and benchmark prices declined 1.2 per cent, the Canadian Real Estate Association said Monday. In Toronto, the nation’s biggest city, sales fell 0.5 per cent and benchmark prices rose 0.1 per cent.

Activity across the country fell by 0.4 per cent, bringing the 12-month decline to 8.9 per cent, according to the Ottawa-based realtor group. Sales fell in about half of the country’s real estate markets, with buyers and sellers still being influenced by rising mortgage rates and tougher qualification rules introduced at the start of the year, CREA president Barb Sukkau said.

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Some markets nonetheless saw sales increase in September, including an eight-per-cent rise in the Fraser Valley.

Sukkau says rising mortgage rates and the new mortgage stress test will continue to influence the balance between supply and demand with most markets expected to “become even more restrictive” in months to come.

The group’s chief economist, Gregory Klump, adds that time will tell how these factors will play out for certain cities.

“In markets with an abundant supply of homes and slower sales activity, buyers have the upper hand when it comes to negotiations over price,” he said in a statement. “However, in places where buyers are keen to make a purchase but there’s a shortage of homes for sale, sellers are in the driver’s seat when it comes to price. It will be interesting to see how supply and demand respond to rising interest rates amid this year’s new mortgage stress test.”

The mortgage stress test came into effect in January, adding downward pressure on property values that were still adjusting to other newly introduced measures such as a 15-per-cent foreign-buyer tax in Ontario.

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TD Economics says the report points to a more “moderate pace” for the Canadian housing market in the coming quarters.

“This is consistent with our forecast calling for resale activity to rise at a more moderate pace in coming quarters, as increasing borrowing costs and stretched affordability conditions in key markets keep a lid on demand,” bank economist Rishi Sondhi said in a note.

The real estate association says the national average price for a home sold in September was just under $487,000, up 0.2 per cent compared with a year ago.

Excluding the Greater Toronto and Greater Vancouver areas, the average price was just over $383,000.

Source:  VancouverSun

Trump’s US-China Trade War Boosts Risks for Australian Housing Market

The Donald and Doncaster may not often feature in the same sentence, but Donald Trump’s incipient trade war with China is a growing risk to housing in the eastern Melbourne suburb, according to Fitch Ratings.

And it’s not just Doncaster, either. Concerns about a housing downturn that have become the biggest worry for fixed-income investors in Australia in the ratings agency’s latest six-monthly survey indicate that a hard landing in China’s economy triggered by a trade war, or further local credit curbs could hit dwelling values across the country.

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“Investors have become more concerned about the impact of trade wars on China,” said Fitch Australia managing director John Miles. “If we were to see a hard landing in China that could impact on Australia and lead to downward pressure on house prices.”

The downturn that pushed dwelling prices in Australia’s east coast-dominated market down 2.7 per cent over the year to September was result of locally driven credit curbs targeting investors in particular and triggered a jump in concerns about the housing market in the October 2018 Fitch  KangaNews  Australian Fixed-Income Investor Survey.

The survey does not forecast a housing crash. The vast majority of respondents (97 per cent) expect unemployment – one possible trigger of weakness – to remain below 6.5 per cent through to mid-2020.

But housing market concerns are now regarded as a high risk to Australian credit markets by 50 per cent of respondents – making it the greatest concern – up from 29 per cent just six months earlier.

Second was the withdrawal of cheap credit globally (39 per cent) as central banks wound back their quantitative easing programs.

A hard landing in the Chinese economy was the third-highest risk (at 28 per cent, little change from six months earlier), followed by “adverse developments in one or more emerging markets” (22 per cent) and then “US presidential impact”. As many as 14 per cent of respondents listed the latter point as a high risk.

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With so many ostensibly separate issues – the mercurial US head of state, trade policies and emerging markets – connected, Australia, and its dependence on the Chinese economy could well mean global jitters shake domestic bricks and mortar. Fitch had not formed a view, however, on the routes by which a China hard landing would feed through, Mr Miles said.

“Whether it’s a trade impact or whether it’s poor economic management in China that leads to a downturn … that can have an impact on Australia given its trade ties,” he said.

Source:  Just News Viral

Housing UK: Average Asking Prices Barely Rise As Landlords Abandon The Property Market

AS NEWS this morning that the average asking price of property rose by just one per cent over the last month, the lowest monthly rate of increase at this time of year since 2010, indications are that a storm is brewing in the UK property market – but not just as a result of possible no-deal Brexit.

The slowdown, as reported today by property search portal Rightmove, suggests that the currently subdued conditions are as a result of a weakening at entry level, where the price of properties with two bedrooms or less which are normally the ideal rental investment, are falling in some areas.

That’s because due to changes in the way that buy to let investors will be taxed from next year, many are holding off purchasing further properties or indeed are beginning to exit the sector altogether.

As recent figures from lending trade body UK Finance indicate, mortgage approvals for new buy to let purchases are currently down by 14 per cent compared to a year ago and reduced by 53 per cent compared to three years ago.

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The changes to the way that landlords are taxed, otherwise known as Section 24, was actually announced in the 2015 Budget by the then Chancellor, George Osborne.

Whilst it’s been public knowledge for some time – buy to let investors have been paying additional stamp duty on their purchases since 2016 – it’s estimated that as many as half of all landlords in the UK with buy to let mortgages are unaware that they will soon have to pay more tax on their rental income, with the effects ostensibly starting in January 2019 and increasing over the next few years as the amount payable to the treasury increases.

Many industry commentators have suggested that spring 2019 will see a significant amount of properties owned by landlords hitting the market as they realise that buy to let is no longer a viable investment for them, spurred on by their self-assessment statement in January which, for many, may be the first inkling of what’s in store.

Brian Murphy, Head of Lending for Mortgage Advice Bureau suggested that creating reduced demand from investors was perhaps in the government’s plan all along, explaining that: “Many in the industry have long held the view that the introduction of increased taxation on landlords was partly designed to create this very situation, and help to enable more First Time Buyers to purchase their own property due to lack of competition with landlords for the same properties.

“So, to that end, more stock at entry level with prices softening may assist that strategy.”

Brian went on to say: “Obviously, the introduction of the reduction in mortgage interest rate relief, which is a phased process, doesn’t affect those landlords who aren’t leveraged.

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“However, for those who do have borrowings against investment properties and who haven’t as yet taken measures to mitigate their tax position, the additional tax that they will be paying from the next year may make it less viable for them to stay in the sector.”

Of course, the upside in all of this is that those at the very start of their home ownership journey might now have a better chance of getting their foot on the ladder, due to a combination of more suitable properties on the market, lower pricing and as of last year, an exemption on stamp duty.

Miles Shipside, Director of Rightmove, commented on the report’s findings: “With the government using the tax system to try and help first time buyers while deterring out-of-favour landlords, prices in this sector have been subdued as intended.

“That gives aspiring first time buyers an autumn opportunity to negotiate a favourable deal. The story at this time of year for the last five years has been an average autumn bounce of 1.6 per cent in the price of property coming to market.

“Whilst all regions have seen a monthly rise, this year has a more subdued narrative with only a one per cent uplift.

“While the backdrop of political uncertainty and stretched buyer affordability remains the same, this month has price drops at the bottom of the market dragging down the national average.”

Miles added: “While landlords were hit with a three per cent stamp duty surcharge on property purchases back in April 2016, in contrast most first time buyers were effectively awarded stamp duty-free status in November 2017.

“The fall in prices at the bottom of the market during what is, traditionally, a busier time means that those keen to sell need to price accordingly, which gives an opportunity for those stamp duty-free first time buyers to negotiate harder.”

At the coal face, Robert Lazarus, MD of Paramount Properties in North West London, observed: “There’s a better opportunity for first time buyers coming in to the market at the minute compared to a couple of years ago, especially if they’re looking for a one bed flat.

“Before the additional stamp duty on second homes came in we were selling 20 per cent of these flats to landlords which was driving prices up, and now we’re selling less than five per cent of them to landlords, giving first time buyers the first pick of new stock that comes on.”

Another layer to this complex picture would be the rumoured introduction in the Autumn Budget of capital gains tax relief for landlords who sell to long-term tenants.

If true, this could generate a unique opportunity for those who want to exit the sector to work with those who want to buy, thus creating a win-win scenario for both parties.

However, with latest research from the National Landlords Association suggesting that as many as a fifth of all landlords may leave the sector over the next two years, potentially removing up to 980,000 privately rented properties from the UK’s housing stock, the upwards pressure on rents that this shift in the market might create is not to be under-estimated.

Good news for landlords with a long-term investment view, but not so positive for those who, out of necessity, have to rent their home rather than buy.

Source: Louisa Fletcher, Express.co.uk

Protest In Hong Kong Over Housing On Artificial Islands

Thousands took to the streets in Hong Kong Sunday to protest a government plan to build new housing on artificial islands, claiming the “white elephant” project will damage the environment and line the pockets of developers.

he government’s proposal to reclaim 1,700 hectares (4,200 acres) of land around Hong Kong’s largest outlying island, Lantau, has been touted as a solution to the pressing housing shortage in the city – notorious for being one of the least affordable markets on the planet.

City leader Carrie Lam said new residential units on the proposed artificial islands could accommodate 1.1 million people in the coming years, and pledged to reserve 70 percent of them for public housing.

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But critics say the massive projects are too costly and will also destroy the environment – especially marine life – with many also expressing frustration over the lack of public say in the plans.

There is no official figure for how much the islands will cost, but some campaigners have put the figure at HK$800 billion (US$102 billion).

Protesters chanted “We don’t want white elephants!” in Sunday’s march, joined by children holding up their own illustrations of Lantau’s famous Chinese white dolphins – whose numbers have plunged due to recent construction and reclamation, according to environmentalists.

“There are many ways to find land in Hong Kong, but (the authorities) don’t want to cross the property developers,” said 52-year-old Mr. Chan, referring to the government’s reluctance to take back the vast land banks held by developers.

For some, the project should be rejected for its environmental impact alone.

“This shouldn’t be controversial. Once you’ve destroyed the environment, that’s it,” said accountant Mrs. Wong.

Mr. Chan and Mrs. Wong only provided their surnames.

City officials are promoting the future metropolis of Lantau, which is linked to the mainland with a mega-bridge, as a gateway to the world and to neighbouring Chinese cities. Hong Kong’s international airport – also partially built on reclaimed land – is located just off Lantau.

This is not the first time a mega infrastructure project has sparked outcry in the city.

Hong Kong’s new high-speed rail link to the mainland and the soon-to-be-opened bridge connecting the city with Macau and Zhuhai have also proven divisive.

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Supporters say the multi-billion-dollar projects will boost business, while others claim they are politically driven and costly white elephants aimed at blurring the boundaries between Hong Kong and mainland China as Beijing tightens its grip over the semi-autonomous city.

Prominent democracy activist Nathan Law, who joined Sunday’s protest, said the government’s use of public funds to “ardently” pursue mega-projects rather than welfare programmes such as universal pension shows its lack of will to improve people’s livelihoods.

“This is how an undemocratic government who doesn’t need to be accountable to the people performs,” Law told AFP.

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