Homes for everyone was the blaring message of Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying's maiden policy address. With property prices so high and too many people living in substandard conditions, he had every reason to declare that land supply and housing were his priorities. But as much as those unable to find an affordable place of their own have been given hope, it is not a straightforward matter in Hong Kong to lay out such goals and deliver them. We have to have faith in his commitment, but he is no magician; flats, whether public or private or somewhere in between, cannot be conjured into existence overnight.
Leung has been pragmatic. While he is only too aware of the three-year waiting list for public housing, the demands of single people to have their own flats and the problems of cage, cubicle and subdivided homes, he has taken pains to point out that most of the fixes will be in the medium to long term. Not until 2018 will the government start delivering on his promise to provide 20,000 public housing flats a year over five years. Sources for land have been revealed or put forward, but targets and timetables have been intentionally left vague.
That has surprised and even angered some people. The 200,000 waiting for public housing want certainty, not promises. Lifting the 40-year-old moratorium on development restrictions in Mid-Levels and Pok Fu lam is not welcome news to many residents. Environmentalists are fretting over plans to add up to 3,000 hectares to land reserves by reclaiming outlying waters. Such concerns are to be expected. On so complex an issue as housing, it is impossible to please everyone.
A valid question, then, is whether Leung's policy is the right one. One argument is that it does not address the problem of unaffordable housing. It is unrealistic to expect that it should, though. Interest rates and the economies of Hong Kong, China and the US are the foremost determining factors. Important issues also were left unmentioned. The two biggest being the sizeable land banks that developers are sitting on and the flawed small-house policy for indigenous male New Territories villagers. These issues need a concerted public discussion.
Nothing can be set in stone when it comes to our housing needs. What Leung has mapped out has to be regularly reviewed and revised. He has rightly made public housing a priority and will restart the Home Ownership Scheme. But gaps remain and they need to be better explained and filled.