There is no magic solution to the housing shortage in Hong Kong. Yet expectations have been raised ever since Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying pledged in his manifesto to provide more affordable housing. The stakes were raised even higher when the government committed to deliver 470,000 flats over the next decade, 40 per cent of which will be private housing. That means 20,000 units are to be built a year. The target is as ambitious as it is challenging.
Few would doubt Leung's sincerity in tackling the problem. Over the past two years, there has been no shortage of new ideas and projects on this front. But how much he has achieved is another matter.
According to the latest stocktaking by the financial chief in his budget, the government has again failed to meet the annual target of 20,000 flats. Slippage in railway property developments and urban renewal projects left a shortfall of 2,000 flats. The government is seeking to take back a private site on top of a railway station to build subsidised flats. Depending on the negotiations, further slippage is possible.
In yet another upbeat promise, the minister overseeing land supply has earmarked 34 sites for sale in the coming year, enough for 15,500 new flats. Together with other projects, there will be some 30,000 flats. But whether they will become reality remains to be seen. As the land chief admitted, it all depends on the market situation. As many as 11,000 flats on 21 sites still require approval for land use changes.
The location of the sites, many of which are in the New Territories, may fuel a widening gap in property prices between rural and urban locations. There are also concerns as to why the sites have not been set aside for locals only. Officials should closely monitor the situation to ensure the units are affordable to local buyers.
Home buyers need more than just big numbers to satisfy their housing needs. Every effort should be made to turn the production targets into real affordable flats.