Housing remains the biggest challenge for our next leader

The outgoing Leung Chun-ying administration can claim some success yet the reality is that queues are getting ever longer for subsidised public flats

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 01 January, 2017, 10:30pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 01 January, 2017, 10:30pm

It is tempting to say that Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying has somehow made good on his promise on affordable housing. The latest estimate is that, by March, there will be enough land to build 19,460 new private flats, the highest level since land sales resumed in 2010. While the government has seemingly spared no effort in building more flats, the progress on public housing leaves much to be desired. The shortfall of public units for the next decade has jumped from last year’s forecast of 25,000 units to 44,000 units this year. That means whoever succeeds Leung will inherit a bigger challenge and needs to work harder to solve the housing conundrum.

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Housing minister Professor Anthony Cheung Bing-leung did not shy away from facing the problem when releasing the government’s final report card on long-term housing. Community opposition, he said, was to blame for the 76 per cent increase in slippage. He warned that the planning process had become more lengthy and complicated in recent years.

That there is still a shortfall in the long-term housing output is not new. Time and again, we have been told that development is being held back by vested interests or the not-in-my-backyard mentality. Ringing the alarm bell is one thing. Yet years have passed and the situation prevails. The public is entitled to ask whether the government has been working hard enough to address the problems identified.

However much the Leung team has done, the sad reality is that the queue and the waiting time for subsidised public housing are getting longer. Meanwhile, private property prices continue to spiral even as flats become ever smaller. The market is distorted further by the mushrooming of units being subdivided into overpriced cubicle-like living spaces for low-income earners who are waiting for public housing.

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The mayhem does not bode well for the next government. If this is already the best that could be achieved by a government that made affordable housing its top priority for nearly five years, the challenge in future will be even more daunting. The foundation laid down by the Leung team is good and should be maintained. More importantly, there is a need to come up with better strategies to deal with the problems identified. This includes getting tougher when dealing with vested interests. Citizens should also put public good ahead of their own interests and be more accommodating to development in their neighbourhood. The public expects the next leader to offer more insights on how to tackle the housing conundrum.