Longer wait for flats on the cards amid building shortfall

Housing Authority says only 8,900 public rental homes will be completed this year - far below target - but it expects to catch up soon

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 24 July, 2014, 4:57am
UPDATED : Thursday, 24 July, 2014, 9:31am

The Housing Authority may "for a short period of time" fail to keep the average waiting time for public rental housing within three years.

The authority said this yesterday after it was revealed that the number of new flats available this year would fall short of the government's construction target.

Only 8,900 flats will be completed this year, far below the average annual target of 15,000 set in Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying's policy address for the five years to 2017.

The authority's subsidised housing committee yesterday endorsed an annual plan under which 24,800 public rental housing flats would be available for allocation to applicants in the current fiscal year - 26 per cent less than last year's figure.

Most are refurbished second-hand flats or those vacated by the relocation or death of tenants.

Committee chairman Stanley Wong Yuen-fai said delays in works and planning processes had postponed new homes.

"The major problem is finding land. The second one is the planning process," Wong said. "Proposals to rezone government, institution or community land for residential use often face opposition … There is a long consultation process."

Increased rainfall and a construction labour shortage also contributed to the delays, he said.

Wong said the authority would probably "briefly deviate from the targeted waiting time" of three years from the date of application. But he insisted it would be able to catch up in the coming two years.

"The delayed flats are expected to be completed next year … There will be at least 37,000 flats available for allocation next year, which means we should be able to meet the 'three-year waiting time' pledge again soon," he said.

But critics were pessimistic.

"The chief executive pledged to build an average of 20,000 public rental flats each year [between 2013 and 2023]," Federation of Public Housing Estates president Wong Kwun said. "Now he has not even met half of this target."

Committee member Nelson Wong Sing-chi challenged the claim that difficulty in finding land had caused the delay.

"These are construction sites identified three or four years ago … I think the real reason is the shortage of workers because a lot of construction projects are going on at the same time," he said.

At the end of March, the number of outstanding applications for public rental housing reached an all-time high of 248,100.

In a report released in April, the Audit Commission warned that the waiting time for flats could be lengthened to five years in 2020.