Urgent to find more rural land for public flats: lawmakers
Government reveals it will run out of New Territories land to build rental flats by 2017
The government is facing increasing pressure on its quest for housing land after it revealed it would be short of rural land for public rental flats by 2017.
The information was made known to lawmakers in a meeting yesterday of the Legislative Council's housing panel after the government was urged to be more transparent on the demand and supply of such flats.
Under the government's plan, 82,100 public rental flats will be built in urban areas and the New Territories over the next five years. But none will be built in the New Territories in 2017 and 2018 as no land has yet been secured for their construction.
"The information sends a serious signal," said housing panel chairman Wong Kwok-hing. "The government must find more land or it will be difficult for it to honour its pledge to provide public housing [to families and elderly people within three years of application]."
Permanent secretary for Transport and Housing Duncan Pescod conceded that the government was concerned about the possibility of lengthening applicants' waiting time. He said it was looking for more land to meet the rising demand.
The Housing Authority's statistics showed that 44 per cent of the 14,300 families and elderly people who were granted a public flat from July 2012 to June 2013 waited more than three years. Six per cent - 900 applicants - waited more than five years.
But in the paper submitted to the Legislative Council, the authority said the longer waiting time was partly because of applicants' preference to live closer to the urban districts.
Of the 6,300 who waited more than three years, 52 per cent subsequently chose a flat in core urban areas and 39 per cent opted for extended urban areas.
For those who waited more than five years, the authority said it was largely due to a change in preferred location and delayed submission of documents.
"The government is lying," said Civic Party lawmaker Kwok Ka-ki, referring to the failure to meet the three-year pledge.
Labour sector lawmaker Kwok Wai-keung said many of the complaints he was handling involved waiting times of five to seven years. But Housing Department assistant director Anson Lai Yat-ching said the average waiting time for families and elderly applicants was 2.7 years - still within the government's three-year target.
There were currently 118,700 such applicants on the waiting list for public rental flats, he said.
Only 16 per cent of the two groups on the waiting list had waited for more than three years, and half of those would get a flat soon, after investigations into their eligibility, he added.