Hong Kong housing

Hong Kong’s housing minister under fire for failing to resolve property woes

Lawmakers accuse Anthony Cheung of failing to heed their advice on soaring prices and subdivided flats

PUBLISHED : Monday, 06 February, 2017, 7:19pm
UPDATED : Monday, 06 February, 2017, 7:19pm

Lawmakers accused the housing minister of failing to listen to their advice after he briefed them on the outgoing administration’s efforts to rein in soaring property prices and problems such as the proliferation of squalid subdivided flats.

Secretary for Transport and Housing Professor Anthony Cheung Bing-leung conceded the government had to bear responsibility for many unresolved issues but that it could not alone overcome unforeseen obstacles such as public opposition to developments and delays in the commissioning of projects, claiming only a magician had such powers.

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He was responding to questions after briefing the Legislative Council’s housing panel on Monday about related issues raised last month in Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying’s swansong policy address.

Panel member Leung Yiu-chung, of the Neighbourhood and Worker’s Service Centre, called Cheung’s final briefing a failure as he did not provide any new solutions other than continued pledges to build more public rental and subsidised housing.

“[Lawmakers] have given you so many short-term recommendations to consider, from interim housing to rental controls, but you simply give excuses and say neither this nor that can be done,” Leung said.

“Of course building more flats will solve the problem but the problem is the flats could not be built and now you’re blaming different things for dragging down progress. Are you shifting responsibility to the next government?”

The housing supply target for the next decade – first set in 2014 – was maintained at 460,000 flats: 280,000 for public housing and 180,000 for private housing. But the government has already stressed it would fall short of the latter target by at least 44,000 flats.

Average waiting times for public housing flats had reached four-and-a-half years as of September, falling short of the three-year pledge set out at the start of the government’s term in 2012. Lawmakers also pointed out that over 200,000 people were still living in subdivided flats as a result of sky-high property prices and rents.

Cheung said: “Unresolved housing problems are definitely the government’s responsibility, so I won’t shirk the responsibility. But the government alone wanting to construct more housing cannot solve the problem.

“If everyone thinks a bureau secretary can just resolve problems that cannot be [easily] resolved, then what you are looking for is a magician.”

Cheung became the first minister last month to openly declare he would not serve in the next administration.