Success of flats strategy hinges on finding enough suitable sites in Hong Kong
Housing minister acknowledges difficulty of building enough homes to meet demand and calls for support of the community
Olga Wong and Stuart Lau
A cloud was cast over the government's new long-term housing strategy even as it was unveiled yesterday, with warnings that meeting the targets depended on finding suitable land and resolving community conflicts.
The plan, unveiled against a background of fierce opposition to new town projects in the northeast New Territories, includes the previously signalled target of building 470,000 flats in the next 10 years.
Drawn up by 15 government advisers and four housing and lands officials after 10 months of discussion, the plan also calls for raising the ratio of public to private flats from 50 to 60 per cent, shortening the time non-elderly single people wait for public flats and regulating the safety of subdivided flats.
"We did not consider if the government has enough land supply to meet the proposed housing target," said Secretary for Transport and Housing Professor Anthony Cheung Bing-leung, who led the long-term housing strategy steering committee. "It will pose a great challenge to the government if it adopts the target. It has to plan for building new land and raising development density while addressing the impact on traffic and community facilities."
The support of the community and the determination of the government would be crucial, an administration source said. "The whole of society seems to have agreed that the city needs more public flats. But when it comes to seeking support from individual districts, they tend to refuse to accommodate them. We need more lobbying."
Success also hinges on the supply of construction workers and the participation of developers, who will be invited to build some of the subsidised homes.
The strategy does not address Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying's election pledge to help single applicants aged over 35 obtain a public flat in three years. Instead, it proposed shortening the waiting time for those aged 45 and over and those aged 40 to 44 in phases.
"It's impossible to accomplish [the pledge for younger applicants] without affecting the current three-year pledge for family and elderly applicants, given limited land," Cheung said, adding that more subsidised homes would be built for those younger than 35.
The source said raising the proportion of public flats, including subsidised flats, sent a clear message that the government was determined to offer more affordable homes while avoiding causing fluctuations in the private property market.
In the next 10 years, the annual supply of private flats would be reduced from 20,000 to about 18,000, whereas that of public flats would increase from 20,000 to about 28,000 a year.
The target is expected to be reassessed annually and the strategy will be subject to a three-month public consultation before being finalised.
Former lawmaker Lee Wing-tat, who runs concern group Land Watch, said the report failed to address how the government could secure land to meet the housing target, which he said was an underestimate.
Polytechnic University academic Dr Chung Kim-wah said the strategy lacked measures to satisfy the demands of young people.
THE KEY RECOMMENDATIONS
Build 470,000 new homes in the next decade, 60 per cent of them public rental and subsidised flats
Shorten waiting times for non-elderly single applicants aged over 45, and then for those over 40 in a second phase
Make space for new public rental flats reserved for non-elderly single applicants on existing public estates
Increase supply of subsidised flats to more than 5,000 a year, reserving 10-30 per cent for young single applicants
Set minimum income and asset levels for buyers of subsidised flats to ensure affordability
Build interim housing for tenants of subdivided flats affected by proposed licensing system to regulate safety and hygiene
Give a three-month rent waiver to householders in under-occupied public flats to encourage them to move to smaller flats