Paul Chan

Crack down on small-house ‘grey area’, adviser says

PUBLISHED : Monday, 22 October, 2012, 1:12pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 29 August, 2013, 4:13am

Hong Kong’s shortage of housing land should be addressed by tackling the “commercialisation” of village houses, not necessarily by making the homes taller, a government adviser said on Monday morning.

Fred Li Wah-ming, a member of the Long Term Housing Strategy Steering Committee, made the suggestion on a radio programme on Monday morning, sparked by last week’s debate about the city’s small-house policy.

“The whole issue is not simply a land [problem] and could not be solved simply by raising height limits … There is the view that the policy leads to commercialisation. Many people are exploiting the grey area to sell the rights to some middlemen, so they can build and sell houses with developers,” Li said.

The small-house policy gives male indigenous villagers the right to build a three-storey house on a 700-sq-ft site close to their ancestral homes. Critics say the law is discriminatory and open to abuse for profit through collusion with developers.

“Is [commercialisation] against the [policy’s intention] because it was [designed to deal with villagers’] housing need?” Li warned that the government should be careful in this grey area.

The latest comments on the issue came after Secretary for Development Paul Chan Mo-po wrote in a newspaper column on Friday, saying a review of the four-decade-old policy was necessary but would take a long time. It is the first time the new administration has touched on the sensitive issue.

Rural leader Junius Ho Kwan-yiu, speaking on the same RTHK programme as Li, warned that certain some changes to the small-house policy could backfire.

Ho, chairman of the Tuen Mun Rural Committee, said that although he would welcome a review of the policy, he warned that there might be “huge opposition” if the villagers’ right to build a small house is taken away.

Many villagers simply develop land they already own, he noted. “Don’t forget that, since this is private land, we must respect the private owners’ right as to how to use it,” he said.

Ho argued that raising the height limit would be a “natural” solution to the housing shortage.