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Hong Kong housing

Waiting time to get into Hong Kong public housing shoots up a full year over past 12 months

Housing Authority says families now have to wait an average of just over four years and eight months; expert says it may take two years to see a decline

PUBLISHED : Monday, 13 February, 2017, 10:28pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 14 February, 2017, 9:48am

The waiting time to get into public housing has increased by a full year in the past 12 months – marking the biggest annual leap since Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying took office in 2012.

Thousands of families now face an average wait of just over four years and eight months, according to the Housing Authority. Single senior citizens have to wait about two years and seven months.

The figures are based on the time it took for tenants to be housed last year.

By comparison, waiting times only increased by a little over two months in a year between 2012 and 2013.

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The longest waiting time was six and a half years in 2002 when Tung Chee-hwa was chief executive. Since the handover, authorities have promised to shorten the waiting time for families to three years.

The data comes at a time when authorities are struggling to find land to build enough housing in the world’s most unaffordable city to buy and rent property.

Hong Kong’s housing shortage has forced thousands of residents to pay ever higher rents to live in squalid conditions like subdivided flats.

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Housing policy expert Professor Chau Kwong-wing from the University of Hong Kong attributed the longer waiting times to a combination of a lack of new public flats, lengthy land rezoning processes and insufficient existing flats being vacated.

“In the short run, we don’t see any huge improvement in the supply of new public rental housing, so the situation will probably get worse,” Chau said.

The government has admitted it will not meet its target of building 280,000 public flats by 2027, with a shortfall of 44,000 units expected.

Roughly 1 per cent – or about 7,000 public rental flats – are recovered each year due to tenant deaths, housing abuse cases and those moving into purchased subsidised flats.

This rate has not increased over the past five years.

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Chau said it was likely to take two years before waiting times declined, but it would also depend on whether there would be any eligibility changes for public flats.

“In the long term, it would not be that bad since the government is making an effort to increase supply and the proportion of land being uses for public housing. This is only a short to medium- term delay,” he said.

Waiting times have increased even as the total number of applications, including families and single and elderly people, dropped by 8,400 to 282,300 in December on the figure for the end of 2015.

Last year, applications from non-elderly single people plunged by 10,200, while general family and elderly applications rose 1,800 in the same period.

The average waiting time of four years and eight months only reflects the situation facing family and elderly applicants.

A Housing Authority spokesman said: “The long-term accumulation of an imbalance in supply and demand can not be resolved in a short time. As demand for public housing has also continued to rise, the authority cannot fully meet the needs of the public in the short term.”

Despite the longer waiting times, the spokesman pointed out that 20,000 families and elderly people were allocated a flat last year.

Federation of Public Housing Estates executive director Anthony Chiu Kwok-wai said: “Three years is already a long wait for those low-income families who hope to get into public housing. Even if the government says it will deviate from its target in the short term, they should at least give us a timetable on when they can deliver on their promise.”