Building plan looks into next century
FEW housing agents have a programme that looks more than a few years ahead, but the Hong Kong Housing Authority does.
The authority is already landlord for 650,000 flats which many people might consider sufficient for the territory.
But back in 1987 it was felt that housing for low income groups was a continuous need, and ideas were formalised in a White Paper known as the Long Term Housing Strategy (LTHS).
This strategy looked ahead for the 15 years up to 2001, partly because of the long lead time required to plan, acquire land and build.
More plans are in place to handle the demand in 2011.
The LTHS is a joint venture between private and public housing.
Its objectives are to see that Hong Kong people are adequately housed with affordable prices and reasonable rents, to improve the conditions in old estates by redeveloping them, and to satisfy the demand for home ownership.
In principle, the private housing sector can meet the needs of the low and middle income bracket.
In practice, because of market fluctuations in prices, rents and income, the government has to provide some input to ensure that property is provided for low income groups.
''Housing for people with lower incomes is demand led; we have no preconception of production levels,'' said Lee Kai-fat, deputy director of construction.
''However, because demand can be self perpetuating, we look at demand and supply afresh each year.
''This includes private housing, but we take a conservative approach because some flats lie empty, and some families own two homes.'' The early part of the LTHS was successful, and the Housing Authority was able to meet demand.
The first part of the strategy was to get rid of the worst housing and to concentrate on rental housing.
However, as Hong Kong becomes more affluent, the Housing Authority is moving to make more flats available to buy.
''In general we have reached our targets,'' Mr Lee said.
''We have rehoused 65,000 families in over 200 blocks, over 95 per cent of the rental stock is self contained, and its average age is 13 years.'' Because, after seven years affordability, social structure and tenants aspirations have changed, the Housing Department is now undertaking a mid term review of the LTHS, which is highlighting problem areas.
''We have not made as much progress as we would have liked in clearing the waiting list backlog,'' Mr Lee said.
''Partly because the private sector has become much more expensive and less affordable.
''The large amount of clearance and redevelopment has also meant fewer flats on the waiting list.
''The remaining old estates are not so unacceptable, so we could slow down and give a chance to people on the long term waiting list to get a home.'' Another problem is that, once in public housing, there is little incentive to leave it, and only about two per cent of people do so each year.
Rents are well below those in the private sector, and increases only match inflation, while occupants have security of tenure.
Public housing is also generally in a good location on public transport routes.
A third weakness is that home ownership has not been promoted.
''By 2001, two people out of three should own their own home, 15 per cent from the public sector and 45 per cent from the private sector,'' Mr Lee said.
But high prices and government encouraged mortgage restrictions make the private sector unattractive, whereas the public sector home ownership scheme has seen a 100 per cent take up.
To solve these problems the Housing Authority has endorsed several adjustments to the LTHS.
A greater priority will be given to clearing the waiting list backlog.
Consideration is being given to introducing initiatives to encourage families to move out of public rented accommodation and buy under the HOS, which will be promoted.
More blocks at bigger discounts will also be offered to HOS applicants.
In addition, the Housing Authority is planning to develop an enhanced HOS scheme by increasing the $200,000 subsidy which has fallen behind the market movement.
Since a supply of land is the key to more housing, the Government has been asked to consider ways of expediting planning permission, and the Housing Department is considering increasing the building density without decreasing the amount of green open space or community area.