Cheap-homes builder faces HK$5b shortfall
The Housing Society may need to borrow up to HK$5 billion from banks to meet the city's subsidised housing demand, its chief says.
'We are having a cash-flow problem as we are launching different housing projects after years of planning,' said chairman Yeung Ka-sing.
The society is in charge of 10 major construction projects to provide 8,000 subsidised flats from 2014. The cost of the projects is between HK$10 billion and HK$20 billion. They include redevelopment of its public rental estate Ming Wah Dai Ha in Shau Kei Wan, the rent-and-buy My Home Purchase Plan pilot in Tsing Yi, two retirement housing plans, and six for redeveloping old buildings in Sham Shui Po and Shau Kei Wan.
The society, which is Hong Kong's second-largest provider of subsidised homes after the Housing Authority, only has HK$8 billion cash on hand. Unlike the Housing Authority, which is a government agency, the society is a self-financing, non-profit body whose revenue largely comes from flat sales, investment and rents. It obtains land from the government at a discounted premium.
Last year, the society pocketed HK$1.85 billion from selling the last batch of flats of a shelved sandwich-class housing scheme and recorded a surplus of HK$1.5 billion. But Yeung said it was not enough to cover the ongoing projects. It would need to borrow HK$3 billion to HK$5 billion. 'Either we approach the government for an interest-free loan when undertaking its projects, or a more direct way would be to get loans from banks,' he said.
The Ming Wah Dai Ha redevelopment in Shau Kei Wan, described by Yeung as a 'multiple-win project', is one of the 20 existing rental estates built and managed by the society. A master layout plan is being finalised and will be submitted to the Town Planning Board next month. It will provide 3,000 rental flats to accommodate existing tenants and yield an extra 1,000 flats for elderly and other people, to be worked out by the society with the government.
Apart from Ming Wah, redeveloping the other 19 rental estates - some of which are more than 40 years old - would be a good long-term strategy, as the government is struggling for housing land, Yeung said.
'Some estates are too old and are no longer cost-effective to maintain. The plot ratios of these sites were not fully used and redevelopment can release space for more flats,' Yeung said. 'The government doesn't need to give us land nor do the planning. It only needs to give us policy approval. This is a multiple-win solution.'
The society is looking at Yue Kwong Chuen in Aberdeen for its next project. Based on a plot ratio of six and a flat size of 400 sq ft, the site could yield an extra 1,300 flats on top of the existing 1,143. The society was set up in 1948 to help the government solve housing problems.