It will take up to four years to finish the first lot of subsidised housing for young people under a new scheme - but that will amount to fewer than 300 flats.
That is despite Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying's pledge to spend HK$1 billion on building 3,000 flats for young people who cannot afford private housing.
Details of the watered-down "youth hostel" plan were revealed on Wednesday, with a senior official admitting that it was unlikely to generate the large number of flats needed to solve the shortage.
Leung has promised to meet the short-term housing needs of young singles and couples by providing flats for up to five years at a 40 per cent discount to the market rate in the same area.
But Home Affairs Bureau permanent secretary Raymond Young Lap-moon yesterday said the scheme was never intended to solve the housing shortage. Instead, he said, it is a "youth development scheme" to allow young people to save cash for the future while living in subsidised flats.
Under the pilot scheme, single people aged 18 to 30 will be eligible to apply for flats in two projects - on Hollywood Road, Sheung Wan and in Tai Po - if their income is less than 25 per cent of their age group. That is about HK$15,000 a month, based on 2011 data, and would account for some 770,000 people.
The International Montessori School's Tin Hau campus was originally on the list but will not be included in the pilot scheme.
Applications will also be accepted for two young people who want to live together. The asset limit for a single person is capped at HK$300,000. That would be doubled for two people together. Young said the two people need not be married or a couple. But single tenants would no longer be eligible for public housing.
The Hollywood Road project is expected to yield 200 flats of 15 to 20 square metres, while there will be fewer than 70 flats in Tai Po. Young said more land had been found for similar projects, but he did not elaborate.
He said it would be at least three to four years before the first of the flats were ready for tenants.
Solving the affordable housing shortage was a key part of Leung's election campaign pledges. But Young admitted that the final number of flats built under the youth scheme could fall short of the promised 3,000.
The Hollywood Road project, converting an empty school, will be operated by the Tung Wah Group of Hospitals. A youth centre will be redeveloped in Tai Po, and will be run by the Hong Kong Federation of Youth Groups.
But district councillors said it would not be enough. "It would be difficult for young people to use a big portion of their monthly salary to rent one of these flats," said Ken Chow Wing-kan, Yuen Long district councillor.
Tai Po district councillor Kwan Wing-yip said the plan won't help shorten the queue for public housing. "They may not be able to afford the rent even though they only need to pay 60 per cent of it," Kwan said.