Public housing advisers are wondering whether an ambitious programme put forward by Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying can be delivered upon, after it emerged yesterday the Housing Authority had not budgeted for the scheme.
The advisers, all members of the authority, learned from Housing Department officials at a regular meeting that the five-year budget had not taken into account Leung's decision to expand the public housing programme by at least 30 per cent.
Authority member Christine Fang Meng-sang said: "Our budget should reflect the reality.
"The authority will need to spend money to plan for the projects very soon. Will it fail to deliver [the extra flats]?" Fang asked.
Director of housing Duncan Pescod replied: "We were just given this task very recently … We don't think it has a significant 8effect on our budget."
Leung unveiled the plan in his policy speech on January 16, two weeks after the authority, which builds and manages public housing estates, released its 2013-17 budget. He said the city would put more than 100,000 public rental flats on the market over the five years starting from 2018, up from the current target of 75,000.
But the department had not worked out the sums nor located sites to fulfil this initiative beyond 2018, the authority members heard.
Raymond So Wai-man, chairman of the authority's financial committee, said the next few years would be spent doing preliminary work for the expanded programme.
That would comprise only project design and community consultation, which would not take up a lot of money, so the budget could be updated next year, he said.
Member Dr Lau Kwok-yu was unconvinced. He said after the meeting: "I feel disappointed that the authority is not working in line with the policy address. It should plan ahead early, start to look for land and obtain the money now."
Lau pointed to the discovery of short-piling in a public housing project in the early 2000s. The scandal highlighted the pressure on the administration at the time to meet ambitious targets.
"I'm not saying short-piling will happen again, but there are grounds for such concerns. We must ensure housing quality is not compromised."
The number of applications on a waiting list for public rental flats hit 210,000 last month, the highest in two decades.
With construction costs rising, the authority forecasts its deficit in rental housing will balloon from HK$1 billion this year to HK$3 billion by 2017. Its cash and investment balance, budgeted at HK$63 billion this year, will shrink to HK$46 billion by 2017.
It has received more than 60,000 applications to a programme that closed last week, which allows 5,000 selected families earning less than HK$40,000 a month to buy second-hand flats subsidised by the authority.