More effort is needed to solve the city’s shortage of affordable housing
Even increasing the amount of units available at the Kai Tak development won’t help, and the chief executive has less than a year to meet his promise
Adequate housing supply remains so distant a goal that officials need to step up efforts to try and meet their target. The latest attempt is to raise the development density in the old airport site by one-fifth to add another 11,000 units. Given the clock for Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying to make good on his election promise is rapidly ticking down, the move comes as little surprise. But the government must ensure that the original vision of providing a quality living environment for the public will not be compromised as a result.
In an interview with the Post, development chief Paul Chan Mo-po was quick to assure that the development theme at Kai Tak would remain unchanged, referring to the goal of turning the 320-hectare prime urban area into a “distinguished, vibrant, attractive and people-oriented community”. But weighing heavily on the other side of the balance is the ever-increasing demand for housing. The original supply target in Kai Tak was already revised from 29,000 to 33,500 a few years ago, raising concerns whether it will be just another neighbourhood packed with shoe-box units. The new push to build 44,500 units looks even more ambitious.
Apart from the extra housing units, commercial and office space also will be increased by another 33,000 square metres under the revised plan. Details of the blueprint are not available at this stage. But the changes are expected to result in taller or more massive buildings. Officials need to address the possible environmental impact when consulting the public on the plan.
As challenging as it sounds, the new plan still cannot answer the growing call for more housing supply. As Chan revealed, public housing will still be 25,000 units short by 2025-26. The shortfall is partly attributed to a “not in my backyard” mentality, as local residents come up with different reasons to try blocking development projects that they fear will have an adverse impact on their living environment.
The resistance means slower supply and longer queues for applicants. The government is struggling to honour its pledge to offer rental units within three years, as reflected in a surge in the waiting time to 4.1 years.
The chief executive has rightly made affordable housing his prime policy objective. While his team has made efforts to boost supply over the past four years, there is still much to be done. With less than a year to go in his current term, Leung needs to work harder to show we are on track to meet the target.